Preparing for death: ‘The night nurses became part of the family for those weeks’

When nurse Mary Cregan was dying of a brain tumour, her family took great comfort from the support of the Irish Cancer Society’s night nurses

It's often said that the death of a son or daughter is one of the most devastating things a parent could ever face in life and John Cregan speaks honestly about the huge loss he and his family are experiencing since his daughter, Mary Cregan, died of a brain tumour last March.

The eldest of three children in the Cregan family, Mary was a much appreciated nurse in the Accident and Emergency Department of University Hospital Limerick.

She was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 2015 and subsequently underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy at Cork University Hospital. "She was a very upbeat, bubbly person and although she was off work during her treatment, she continued to live her life," explains John Cregan.

However, a routine scan in June 2018 showed the cancer had returned. And various treatments, including six months of chemotherapy, didn’t work this time. Sadly, by February, 2019, a palliative care plan was put in place for Mary.


“It was devastating news for her and for all of us but the staff at Milford Hospice in Limerick acted quickly,” explains John Cregan. Mary’s room in the family home in Meelin on the Limerick-Cork border was kitted out with a hospital bed, a hoist and any other equipment needed to make her comfortable.

"The first week we coped ourselves because my wife, Patsy, is a nurse and quite a few of Mary's nursing friends volunteered to help but for the final weeks, we needed day nurses and the Irish Cancer Society night nurses," he says.

“The night nurses we had became part of the family for those weeks. They sat with us, chatted with us and had meals with us as they coped with Mary’s illness so professionally,” says John Cregan.

He says that in the midst of such a devastating experience, the night nurses brought the family something positive that they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives. “Mary coped so admirably and she remained conscious until four days before she died. She didn’t experience a moment’s distress during her passing and we’re so grateful for that. The work of the night nurses – and that of the team from Milford Hospice – has left an indelible mark on our lives and we’ll never forget them.”

Fundraising for night nurses

The Irish Cancer Society and Boots pharmacies organise 5km night walks every year to fundraise for the night nurses service. This year's events will go ahead in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Friday, August 16th, at 7.30pm and in Blackrock Castle, Cork, on Friday, August 23rd, at 7pm. The Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurseline, 1800 200 700, is open from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.

The night nurses provide free care to terminally ill cancer patients and are a back-up to other daycare services provided by local hospice teams. They are funded entirely from donations and fundraising activities and John Cregan is keen to mention how a fundraising dance organised by his daughter, Mary – which raised €150,000 for charities including the ICS Night Nurses – went ahead 24 hours after she died.

“The event had gathered so much momentum that we decided to go ahead with it and we encouraged family and friends to go to it. It’s a wonderful legacy to her.”