“My survival alone was a miracle.”
Diagnosed in 2002 with a life threatening head and neck cancer, Liam Ryan’s doctors told him he should have never survived. Beating all the odds, today Liam wears an eye-patch as his only reminder.
According to Liam, his book was written by somebody ordinary, to encourage and inspire every cancer patient that will come after him. This is the second of nine articles in a series that covers his final chapter, Closure. Click here to read Part I.
Closure, Part II
I felt I needed to go somewhere for closure. Wherever I was to go, it would have to be somewhere special. A place that would receive me as a cancer patient, and send me home as a free man. I wanted to make a journey somewhere to mark the end of the journey itself.
I did not know where that place was going to be. I knew it could not be an extravagant destination like Las Vegas, Ibiza or Hong Kong. I knew it could not even be one of the beautiful cities in the world like Paris or Sydney or Cape Town. It had to be somewhere very special, somewhere with meaning. It was going to be the place where I would close the book. The place where I would say “I have beaten cancer. I am still alive. It is over. Now it is time to get on with the rest of my life.” I didn’t know where such a place was to be.
By now quite a few of my daily church visits had turned into going to morning Mass in Ballina. These weekday Masses were almost exclusively attended by a group of local women who hardly ever missed a day. Just about all of these wonderful women became devoted to my case. Without any invitation they had taken charge of the piece of my jigsaw that had “prayer” written on it. One of these women, Deirdre Griffin, approached me one morning as I was leaving Mass. She convinced me that the place I was looking for was called Medjugorje.
I didn’t know anything about Medjugorje. This was good. I liked the fact that it was a place I didn’t know much about. It meant that I felt I was able to journey there on my own terms. I could make this a very personal pilgrimage, just for me, without any preconceived expectations of what Medjugorje was supposed to be.
I made a point of finding out very little more about it before I went. The little bit I did know however I liked. I knew that an apparition had occurred there. The only other thing I knew was that it had a mountain. That was good enough for me. I started with a mountain at Tountinna, so now I would finish with one too. Two small mountains were now going to bookend my entire cancer story, Tountinna in County Tipperary and Krizevac in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Deirdre’s sister-in-law, Rosemarie McKeogh organises a parish trip from Ballina to Medjugorje every year. She was only delighted to sign me up for the group going out in September. I too was glad to be travelling with a group of people I knew well but this was primarily a private mission. I was determined that I would isolate myself at the appropriate moments to make the personal closure I needed.
Within a week I also acquired two surprising but very welcome travel companions. My sister Dolores decided she would come. The joke was that she was coming to hail Pam and my two other sisters when the meningitis struck again. My recovery had now reached a point where, I am glad to say, such concerns were unnecessary.
The other traveller was a bit more of a surprise. Geno was coming too. Deirdre had very cunningly played one of us off against the other for the previous few weeks. She told Geno that I was coming in a bid to secure his commitment. In turn she kept telling me that he was confirmed to finally convert my initial interest into signing on the dotted line.
Geno’s presence gave the proposed trip a whole new complexion. A sense of intrigue began to break out. The lubricated tongues in every pub in the town began to wag. “Geno and Liam are going on a pilgrimage”! Surely this could not be as it seems. There is some kind of cover up going on. Maybe they have discovered some new faraway paradise, full of beautiful women, who only desire men in their late forties from North Tipperary.
Other jokes were less kind. If you were ever thinking of going to Medjugorje you better go now. They are bound to close it after Geno has been.
The truth however was nothing so complicated. Geno, as it turns out, had a bit of soul searching to do like myself. After that he had simply fallen for the very persuasive charm of both Deirdre and Rosemarie, just like I had.
All three of us were glad the other two were coming. In the back of our minds it was our built in safety plan. If the trip turned out to be a disaster for any reason, we could all bail out and head for the Croatian coast.
Stay tuned as we continue Liam’s story…
Reprinted with permission of the author.