Irene in training for tough race in memory of her dad

Irene Irvine pictured on her wedding day with her dad, Alex Rafferty. INNT 35-521CON
Irene Irvine pictured on her wedding day with her dad, Alex Rafferty. INNT 35-521CON

The daughter of a Newtownabbey man who passed away last year after losing his battle with bowel cancer is planning to run the race of her life in her dad’s memory.

Irene Irvine, a 36-year-old mum-of-three, has taken up the challenge to compete in her first ever half marathon, and is using every spare moment to train.

Irene’s father, Alex Rafferty, was a retired fitter. He was a grandfather-of-eight and had been as “fit as a fiddle” until his diagnosis in May last year.

“He’d just had a brilliant holiday in Australia the Christmas before and was enjoying life. By the time he had all the scans and was diagnosed the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs.

“He went through an operation and had a colostomy bag fitted. At the beginning of August 2013 he started radiotherapy at Belfast City Hospital - I was his chauffeur. We thought it would give him a few extra months, but he had a fall in the bathroom at home and had to go to the Mater Hospital and never came home again. He died within a week, passing away on August 23 at the age of 76,” Irene explained.

“The whole experience was terrible. No one in our immediate family had had cancer before dad became ill, so it was a massive shock and completely unknown territory for us all.

“It attacked him so quickly - just tore him apart. It’s dreadful to watch someone you love go through that, to see someone getting weaker and weaker,” she added.

Irene has signed up for the first ever Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon on September 22 in support of the official charity, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

“When I heard that Cancer Focus had chosen men’s health for its half marathon fundraising campaign, it struck a chord with me. I really hope I can help in some small way to lower men’s risk of getting cancer and perhaps save some other family from going through the same anguish as us.”

As well as finding time for her half marathon training, Irene works full time as an administrator, looks after her children aged eight, 13 and 18, and cares for her mum, Louise, who has arthritis, diabetes and asthma.

“I keep thinking, why can’t we stop this disease in this day and age. I know Cancer Focus fund a lot of research at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, where dad used to work, and at Queen’s University, which was an another reason for raising funds for this excellent charity,” she said.

Irene has completed a few shorter charity runs before, but she isn’t too worried about her race time, just aiming to finish the 13.1 miles.

“Our family has wonderful memories of a fantastic father and husband and a warm human being. He is the force and inspiration driving me on to complete this challenge.”

To sign up for the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon or Fun Run on September 22 visit www.belfastcitymarathon.co.uk and tick the box for Cancer Focus. Deadline for entries is September 8.

Anyone who would like to support Irene can click on Justgiving.com/Irene-Irvine