Chapter 24 – 2008: A Concert, A Climb and A Jamboree

I celebrate myself, and sing myself. – Walt Whitman

2008 was  a year of celebrations for me. I was back at work, managing four full days each week in my job and really enjoying feeling challenged again in a different way.

My hospital routine was well established and consisted of one visit per month for bloods and review in haematology and one visit every three months to see my kidney specialist. There were a few other checks too – one to see a GI specialist to make sure that my stomach was okay after all the treatment. I also saw a dietician from time to time to make sure I was eating properly and gaining some weight. For the first time in my adult life I was under strict instructions to eat full fat everything and lots of dairy products for my bone health. Cream buns were the order of the day from time to time.

I was managing okay with the after effects of the trauma of the treatment. I still had wobbles every now and then and flashbacks to the awfulness of the treatment. This is completely normal because cancer is like a dark black rain cloud that follows you around. …. Sometimes it rains down doom and despair and sometimes I am able to forget it for a moment or two. “I have incurable cancer” is a permanent speech bubble in my head and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My favourite time of each day is the feeling just before I wake up properly when I am half awake/asleep. Then, for a brief moment I forget I have an incurable cancer. Then my reality sets in and I curse the feckin’ myeloma hovering over me.

Because I live with a life-limiting disease I have a new sense of urgency about me. I was always on the go BC but now I find myself saying yes to things I might have hesitated about before.

After spending all of 2007 being cooped up and feeling so sick, I started 2008 with all sorts of plans.

2008 was a big year for me as I was going to be turning 40 in November and I also wanted to fins a unique way of celebrating the first anniversary of my stem cell transplant on July 9th.

What I didn’t know in January 2008 was that the celebrations were going to be even more special than I realised.

The Drumm Sessions 

In June 2008 I was listening to the radio and I heard a promotion for a competition to have Brian Kennedy play a concert in someone’s house during the month of June. I thought it would be a superb way of celebrating the first anniversary of my transplant so I entered. Here’s what happened next…

(This is a piece taken from the Brian Kennedy official website)

Review by Brenda Drumm, the competition winner of the Derek Mooney Radio Competition

For one night only – in my living room!

I listen to RTE Radio One most days in work. To be honest I don’t normally pay much attention to competitions that I hear on the radio – you can never get through in time or else it’s a sporting question which I am hopeless at. When I heard them announce on the Derek Mooney Show that you could win a private concert with Brian Kennedy, I thought it was a joke. Seriously? Brian Kennedy? They said to just email in the reason why you deserve to have Brian Kennedy play a gig at your house and you could be in with a chance. Well I thought to myself – no phone number to dial, no sport question – just an email – I would give it a go.

My reason for wanting Brian to play at our house – apart from the fact that I am a HUGE fan and a private concert with Brian would be amazing – was that I was looking for a way to celebrate the first anniversary of my life-saving stem cell transplant. On January 2nd 2007 I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, something for which there is currently no cure. I was told that the best course of treatment for me was a stem cell transplant. Here comes the science bit – a stem cell transplant in my case involved the harvesting of my own stem cells from within my bone marrow – the freezing of these cells – the administration of high dose chemotherapy to kill the cancer (and unfortunately every else in my bone marrow) and then the transplantation of my own stem cells back to me. It’s cutting edge stuff! The process is very straight forward but the effects of the high dose chemotherapy are brutal – I was sick within hours of it being given to me and I continued to get sick for five weeks. I wasn’t able to eat or drink at all. I had a lot of very unpleasant side effects and it was generally just a very tough time for me and for my family.

I really wanted to celebrate one year since my transplant and I was trying to think of something other than just dinner and drinks. I entered and really never thought I would hear anything. But just in case I did, I painted the last two fence posts in the garden that I had given up on a couple of weeks before that.

Brenda Donoghue, who works on the Mooney Show, phoned me on Monday 23rd June, the day all competition entries had to be in by. She said that they liked my email and that she would call me the next day to give me a chance to record a two minute pitch as to why I deserved Brian Kennedy. She told me that they had had a huge number of entries and she along with others on the show were making the last few calls to allow people to make their pitches. She said that they would be making their final decision the next day and announcing the winner live on air.

The show runs from 3.00pm until 4.30pm each day and I had been listening to the various stories and reasons that people were giving for wanting Brian Kennedy playing in their home – all great stories and all very worthy. There was no sign of my story being played and I really thought I was out of the running. At 26 minutes past four Brenda Donoghue ‘s voice took on a very authoritative air as she said it was time to announce the winner. She said that my email when it arrived had jumped off the page, it was a life affirming story, an amazing story. Then she said the winner is ……… Brenda Drumm.

I thought I was going to faint I got such a shock. There was uproar in the office where I work. I couldn’t believe it – Brian Kennedy was coming to our house in 24 hours time. It was SURREAL! Seriously though – BRIAN KENNEDY was coming to our house. There were tears of all kinds – shock, laughter, joy – just pure emotion. My phone went crazy with text messages and my email started to beep. How on earth were we going to manage? What time was he coming at? How on earth were we going to get organised?.

Brenda Donoghue rang and said that Brian would arrive for 8pm and play for about an hour or so. She went through the other details and she said ‘Do you think you will be able to gather enough people?’. I told her that I would have trouble keeping people away once they heard!!!

I think it really hit me on the way home in the car. Brian Kennedy who I have been a fan of for years, Brian Kennedy who I had listened to on my ipod all those nights that I was sick in hospital last year, Brian Kennedy – musician, author, national treasure – was coming to play in our house in 24 hours time!

Jeepers – the house, how on earth were we going to be ready? I had a meeting and dinner out that evening and I had to go into work the following morning as I had training so really we had very little time to do anything in the house. Brenda Donoghue was arriving to our house on the Wednesday afternoon to do a live feed into the Mooney Show that day so it wasn’t until she left at 4.00pm on the day Brian was coming to play that we actually started to get the place ready. It was chaos but chaos in a very military precise way – the table was moved from the dining room to the kitchen, chairs were borrowed from neighbours and from the back garden, windows were given a quick clean, the floors were given the once-over. Invitations went out and continued to go out up to about 6.00pm on the evening of the gig. People were amazing – food and drink arrived and continued to arrive all evening.

Brian’s soundman and Anthony Drennan the amazing guitarist arrived about 50 mins before Brian did. Pat had asked me for two stools – nothing else, just two stools and a little table. He worked away setting up the speaker and the other equipment. People were arriving all the time and there were cameras everywhere. The local papers sent a photographer and there was someone there from local radio. Brenda Donoghue arrived to record everything for the Mooney Show. I remember standing back at one point before anyone had arrived and looking at the two stools at the top of the living room and thinking how crazy the whole thing was – that within a couple of hours Brian Kennedy was going to playing from the little stage area that I had set up.

There were so many genuine Brian Kennedy fans there – it was just amazing. Brian arrived about 7.35ish and I was introduced to him. We had written a short welcome message to him in chalk on the driveway – Welcome Brian, You Raise me UP! He had a laugh at that. He was so nice to talk to – really humble and genuine and so relaxed. He even had time to talk to me about my lavender plants (which are huge)! We had photos done [a lot of photos] and he and I got to chat for a bit before he was introduced to his captive audience. He spent a few minutes tuning up and then I gave a welcome speech and off we went. I was wondering how things would go and of course I was anxious and hoped that he would feel welcomed and that people wouldn’t be shy about joining in. I needn’t have worried – the atmosphere was electric. The sound was amazing, the set-up worked so well, it was as though one of our friends had just dropped in for a chat and a song.

Brian played a selection of songs from Interpretations – Gaye (stunning), Galileo (wow), Get it Right Next Time, and Let’s Stay Together mixed in with some of his back catalogue. In fact apart from the first few songs which he chose – he pretty much let us (well me really) pick the songs that I wanted him to sing. I asked and he did: Put the Message in the Box, Crazy Love, The Town I Loved So Well, Get on With Your Short Life and and Carrickfergus to name a few. I asked him to do I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You – one of my favourites and he said he would but that he normally sings it with Juliet Turner. I’m no Juliet Turner but I got up and sang with him. SERIOUSLY! I sang a duet with Brian Kennedy. It was incredible. People told me afterwards that that was the point when they couldn’t hold the tears in any more! That was one of the high points of the night for me. Just a year ago I was so ill in hospital that there were days that I couldn’t speak because it took too much energy and there I was in full flight, singing with an A list artist like Brian Kennedy. It doesn’t get much better than that.

True to his word Brian played for over an hour and of course the finale was You Raise Me Up. He had no accompaniment at all for that and he came over and stood just a couple of feet in front of me and sang You Raise Me Up. It was so emotional – I cried, I think everyone did (even some of the men who were there).

What a night. It was a once in a lifetime, never to be repeated, stored in my memories in a file called ‘miracles’ – experience. SURREAL is the only word that even gets close to describing what it felt like. Brian was so relaxed and down to earth – we had such a great laugh. There was so much laughter in our house that night and to see so many of the people that I love so happy – well it was overwhelming. Just a year ago my family and friends and indeed myself had very little to be laughing or smiling about as we all wondered if my transplant would be successful.

When he finished singing Brian stayed around for a while for more photographs and gave all the kids his autograph. I asked him to Put the Message in the …… well on the wall of the downstairs toilet, which he did.

It was an incredible way to mark my stem cell transplant. It was a fantastic way for me to thank all the people who have done so much for me throughout my illness in a unique and unforgettable way. I can never thank the Mooney Show enough for giving me such an amazing stem cell birthday present. As for Brian Kennedy – well Brian I don’t think you will ever know how much your presence in our house and how much your music means to me – You Raise Me Up Brian!

Love Brenda Drumm
9th July 2008

So that was my review written for and published on the Brian Kennedy official website. I wrote the review almost as soon as the concert had finished in the house as I wanted to remember and record every detail. We were lucky enough to have a friend video it for us so we have that to treasure and if I ever figure out how to edit video properly, then I will share it somehow.

What a way to celebrate the first anniversary of my transplant. It was going to be difficult to follow that.

Here are just a couple of the photographs from the concert – The Drumm sessions as Brian dubbed them.

the audience
Some of the audience for The Drumm Sessions
me and bryan
Me on the left with Brian Kennedy and Brenda from RTE
duet
Singing a duet with Brian Kennedy

Climb Every Mountain (well just the one) 

Later in the Summer I found myself doing two more things I had never planned to do – the first was climbing Ireland’s Holy Mountain Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo as part of the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage when up to 20,000 people make the climb and offer penance and prayers as part of the process.

Croagh Patrick’s history as a place of worship reaches back in time as far as 3,000 BC. The mountain’s popularity among religious pilgrims dates to the time of St. Patrick, who is said to have completed a forty-day Lenten ritual of fasting and penance here.

Each year, on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as “Reek Sunday”, a day of worship in honour of Ireland’s patron saint. Some people even climb the mountainside barefoot, as an act of penance. Outdoor Masses are held throughout the day, along with confessions at St. Patrick’s Chapel.

Croagh Patrick in Murrisk, Co Mayo
Me in the shadow of Croagh Patrick the evening before the climb
croagh patrick 2
Some of the pilgrims on the way up and others on the way down
People as dots on Croagh Patrick
I could not believe that I was going to be a dot of a person once I managed to get up that high
Emma on Croagh Patrick
Amazing Emma (10) who climbed with great determination
Brenda on top of Croagh Patrick
A very tired but triumphant me on the summit of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain

I had never done the pilgrimage before and I am not sure I will be able to do it again. It took us about four hours to make the climb. For the last third of the climb we were on hands and knees almost as the slope is so steep. There were a few slips on the way up but it was worth it. We stayed on the summit for Mass and we had something to eat. A bowl or hot soup was very welcome indeed.

The journey down was almost as tough as the journey up. We spent much of the time on our bottoms as we slipped and stumbled.

When we got to a place where we could rest up, we sat and looked back up and where we had been. Emma turned to me as asked me who I had done the pilgrimage for and I said that I had offered it up as thanks and prayer that all would be well. I asked her who/what she had done it for and she said: “I did it for you Mammy”.

It was a wonderful mother/daughter moment that we still treasure eight years later. There were blisters and aches and pains but it felt great to be able to complete something so arduous just one year after being so weak and frail as a result of chemo.

A Jamboree for me 

In August 2008 I took part in something that I would never in a million years have thought of participating in. In early 2008 Emma decided to join the local scouting group. I had never been a girl guide or a scout so we had no experience whatsoever of scouting. The national and international scouting jamboree was scheduled to take place in Ireland for 9 days (and nights) from 2 – 9 August 2008. Emma really wanted to go but because there was no female scout leader in the group she wasn’t in a position to go. I was invited to join as a Scout Leaders and I said Yes. The only experience of camping I had was a one night stay in Tramore in the early 90s which was not pleasant. But in the spirit of saying yes to life and to new opportunities I said yes to becoming a scout leader.

I had a very steep learning curve of everything from tying knots and pitching tents to child protection and first aid. We also a few practice camps including a whole weekend of camping at the county shield.

I wasn’t sure what my doctors would make of me spending nine days and nights in the open at the Jamboree so I was economical with the exact details.

The Jamboree was one of the best experiences of my life and I got to share it with Emma. There was laughter, tears and an awful lot of rain. There was so much rain that the event finished a day early and saw all the leaders called to HQ tent at 1am in the morning to receive a severe weather warning.

We had to get the scouts out of their tent in the middle of the night to get out of the way of the flow of water on the field. We even had a visit from the Fire Brigade to pump out some of the water.

But we left the jamboree, tired, mucky and full of memories of a great nine days and nights.

Here are some of the pictures.

Emma at Jam
Emma at the Scouting Jamboree
Em and I at the Jam
Emma with me in our mess tent at the Jamboree
Flood again at The Jam
The extent of the flooding at the jamboree but we just got on with it
Me at the Jam
Not my finest fashion moment but needs must in an Irish Summer
Severe flooding at The Jam
More flooding beside us
The rain at the Jam
The washing machine was on the go for a week after the Jamboree trying to get rid of all the muck

There’s something about being told that you might not have as long left on earth as you would have liked that spurred me on to say yes yes yes to new opportunities placed before me after cancer. And there were even more exciting things to come but that’s for another chapter.

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