Larne woman Carolyn Tweed is preparing for the challenge of a lifetime in Arctic conditions in memory of her beloved sister and best friend Rhonda who lost her battle with cancer in 2016.
Carolyn is taking on the Arctic Trek in northern Sweden to raise money for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland who supported the family throughout Rhonda’s treatment.
They even helped the mum-of-one marry her long time fiance Joe in October 2015 in an emotional ceremony surrounded by close family.
The 39-year-old accountant said she wanted to do something to give back to the charity that had supported both her sister and provided counselling for her after her sister’s diagnosis.
“I think Rhonda would think I am mad. She would be doing it with me of course if she were here though. I know she would be proud and pleased but she would think I am mad, she liked her warmth and comfort and a warm bed,” she said.
“When I am there it will be Rhonda I am thinking of, she will keep me going and also knowing I am doing something that will benefit other people in similar situations.”
Rhonda was diagnosed with the rare cancer ocular melanoma in 2013, shortly before her 38th birthday.
“I had been living in the US at the time and we were on FaceTime and she said the vision in her right eye was blurred,” said Carolyn.
“She went to see her optician and was sent to the Royal. It was six months after this she was diagnosed in September 2013, she had to go to a specialist eye hospital in Sheffield. They originally thought it was MS but then the diagnosis came.”
Doctors found the cancer had spread and her condition was terminal. After taking in the devastating news, Rhonda had surgery to remove her right eye before embarking on a six month course of chemotherapy followed by immunotherapy.
“She was young and had always been fit and looked after herself,” said Carolyn.
“She managed to stay pretty strong throughout but it wasn’t easy, treatment is physically and mentally gruelling. Being in hospital constantly is not a nice experience.”
Rhonda, a council worker, grew up outside Larne and had one daughter with partner Joe, who Carolyn described as “her world”.
She had been with Joe for more than 20 years and in her final months, the pair decided to tie the knot and surprised their family eight days before the big day to say they were getting married.
Cancer Focus NI helped make the day possible and Carolyn said the family would be forever grateful for their support. “It was a great day and they helped get everything together in a short time,” she said.
Carolyn also praised Cancer Focus NI for the support they gave her through their counselling service while Rhonda was alive.
“We lost our wee brother Neil in an accident 20 years ago and I understood grief and knew how hard it was going to be losing her,” she said.
“Rachel from Cancer Focus NI noticed a difference in me when I was visiting Rhonda and asked if I would be interested in counselling, I said why not. I knew how hard it was going to be losing a sibling but my brother was a different experience because it was an accident. Rhonda was my best friend.
“My Cancer Focus NI counsellor Barbara put me at ease and helped me cope with what was a very difficult time. There was no limit to it either, they are a charity but there was never a limit to the support.
“I wanted to do something for Cancer Focus NI because they were there for us.”
During the trek, from March 31, to April 7, 2019, the Cancer Focus NI group will take part in husky driving, ice fishing, fire lighting, shelter and snow hole building, skiing – to name but a few.
To donate and help Carolyn reach her target, visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/carolyntweedarctictrek or to follow her blog, https://tweedyc.wordpress.com/
If you have any concerns about cancer, call the Cancer Focus NI support and information NurseLine on 0800 783 3339.