Donal Buggy, a native of Ballyshannon, is the Head of Services at the Irish Cancer Society. The 39-year-old father of three took up the post six months ago and has already set both himself, and the charity, some very challenging goals. We caught up with Donal just ahead of this weekend’s 24-hour Relay for Life in Letterkenny, which last year raised around 350,000 euro for the Irish Cancer Society.
Donal is the second eldest of seven children born to PJ and Anne Buggy. His siblings are Grainne, Sinead, Aisling, Pauric, Ciara and Aoife. His parents are both retired after their respective careers in the Dept. of Social Welfare and at the Sheil Hospital.
After attending De La Salle, Donal studied Sports Science at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown. He went on to complete an MSc in Science in Cardiff and an MBA at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD.
A talented footballer, he played for the Donegal minors, U-21s and Aodh Ruadh, winning Ulster minor and U-21 championship medals as well as three Donegal senior championship medals. He also won championship medals in Cavan and Wexford. He’s still involved, coaching the Under 8 team at his local club in Killanerin, Wexford, where he lives. He spent a year as one of Donegal’s first full-time GAA coaches and loved every minute of it.
His career has also included stints as Country Club Manager at the Slieve Russell Hotel, setting up Leisure Centres with Aura Sports and Leisure Management, five years as CEO of the Community Games and being Chief Operation Officer of the Merrion Fertility Clinic, a medical charity.
“I learned so much in each of these roles,” he reflects. “Working with Sean Quinn was a great experience in terms of of teaching me about big business. With Aura, I was sitting in government departments making the business case for them to give us 3.5m euro towards building a leisure centre. The Community Games taught me what great things can be done by volunteers when the right structures are in place. I had spent most of my career in sports related activities and working for the Merrion Clinic gave me the chance to work with a medical charity which was a new type of challenge.”
Donal has joined in the Irish Cancer Society in its 50th year. It’s clear that he’s very proud of the charity’s work but has no intention of resting on laurels.
“My key goals for the ICS are to reduce the incidence of cancer by continuing to raise awareness about the importance of lifestyle choices such as not smoking, taking care about exposure to the sun, eating right and exercising. Another important aspect of this is ensuring that people know the signs to look out for, access screening services and get treatment earlier to improve survival rates.
“The other main areas are to consolidate services with centres of excellence, to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and to do a lot more for those who survive cancer. We are just beginning to understand their needs. We will advocate for them, provide services for them, including emotional and financial support, and help them get back to a normal life.”
All of the Irish Cancer Society’s work is funded by voluntary contributions: the charity does not receive any grants.
Donal doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. “The one advantage of this is that we are independent. We advocate on behalf of people with cancer and can say and do what we feel is really required. Our hands are not tied.”
The ICS raises around 20m euro per year to fund a range of programmes and services.
The Night Nursing programme provided 200 nights of care for end of life patients in Donegal in their own homes last year. The ICS also provides grants to help patients access palliative care.
In hospitals, the ICS oncology liaison nurse is on hand to offer practical help. Thérèse Toby is the oncology liaison nurse at Letterkenny General Hospital. Work has begun on the ICS Daffodil Centre at LGH, which is due to open in 6-8 weeks.
Donegal believes the Daffodil Centre will be a big boost for patients and their families.
“It’s very, very difficult for a patient and their family to find out what supports exist or what they are entitled to while they’re trying to cope with their illness and their treatment. Oftentimes it’s only later that they realise something was there that could have made their life a bit easier. We can help with all that, and signpost what’s there for them.”
The capital cost of setting up the Daffodil Centre at LGH is around 125,000 euro and the annual running cost, even with the help of volunteeers, is approximately 80,000 euro. Such a service is vital.
“When you look at the public services being delivered in health care now, the softer services that were provided - the support services - are all being eroded. Things like transportation, home visits, care in the community. These are the kind of services that would have kept people from having to access acute services. That’s part of our rationale for setting up Daffodil Centres in hospitals, to support patients around their lives, not just their treatment.”
In the ICS Care to Drive programme, volunteers collect patients from their home and bring them to hospital. The volunteer driver also collects the patient from hospital and brings them back home. More than 800 Care to Drive free journeys were provided to people in Donegal last year. The ICS also operates a 24 hour cancer information helpline, provides free counselling and funds extensive research. These are the initiatives that are funded by volunteers through such activities as Relay for Life.
“Last year was the first year that Relay for Life came to Donegal and it was an incredible success,” Donal says. “It’s our biggest fundraiser in Donegal and is so well organised and supported. I’m very much looking forward to being in Letterkenny this weekend. Upwards of 1,500 people are taking part. It’s great to see the people of Donegal showing such tremendous support for families who have had to cope with cancer.
“Relay for Life is also about more than fundraising. The event has an important role in education and raising awareness about cancer. It’s also about celebrating the strength of those people who have survived cancer and honour the memory of those who have died.”
For more information, visit www.cancer.ie or follow Relay for Donegal on Facebook.