Legacy of pioneering cancer surgeon honoured as part of National Cancer Survivors Day


A WOMAN whose life was saved by a renowned Irish cancer surgeon who himself died from cancer aged just 65 years said research funding is a fitting legacy to an extraordinary man.

rofessor Gerry O’Sullivan, who died in 2012, was honoured to mark National Cancer Survivors Day this year – but both Irish doctors and cancer survivors said a fitting legacy to his memory has been the major increase in funding to support vital Irish cancer research.

The Cork surgeon became a leading researcher into cancer treatment and therapies.

Over his career, he helped save thousands of lives.

Prof O’Sullivan became an outspoken advocate of cancer research and the importance of funding the development of new treatments.

He died in 2012 from cancer aged just 65.

A statue in his honour, by sculptor Don Cronin, was officially unveiled in the Prof Gerry O’Sullivan Memorial Park in Caheragh, west Cork.

Present was Prof O’Sullivan’s widow, Breda, and his family as well as Professor Luke O’Neill and Mayor of Cork Councillor Gillian Coughlan.

Prof O’Neill was the keynote speaker at the event.

Patricia Larkin knew Prof O’Sullivan through her work as a charity volunteer in Cork for many years.

But she little thought that she would owe her life to Prof O’Sullivan who performed extensive surgery on her when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

“I know I owe my life to Prof O’Sullivan and to other doctors including Professor Seamas O’Reilly, not to mention the nurses, support staff and all those who helped raise money for cancer research,” she said.

“Prof O’Sullivan was a remarkable man. A real people’s person. He had such a great way with people. I had very extensive surgery and, when I woke up afterwards, Prof O’Sullivan was standing beside me. He smiled and said: ‘It’s exactly as we thought – and it is all in the bucket.’

I then went through 30 weeks of chemotherapy and he was a rock of support.”

“I was one of the lucky ones because I came out the other end. Over my journey I met a lot of great people – but not all of them were as lucky as I was.”

Patricia said the statue and memorial park was a fitting memorial to “a truly extraordinary man.”

But she said his major legacy was the expansion of research across Ireland into cancer research and the development of life-saving new treatments.

Fittingly, Prof O’Sullivan’s daughter, Orla Dolan, is now helping maintain her father’s legacy as Chief Executive of Breakthrough Cancer Research.

“My father always had a special place in his heart for west Cork and the people of Caheragh,” she said.

“Whenever we saw him lost in thought, he said he was ‘looking West for inspiration’. I know he would have felt immensely honoured and humbled (by his legacy).”

Prof O’Sullivan was deeply proud of his native Caheragh – and often joked to friends and colleagues that, in the middle of intensive cancer research, he “would always look west for inspiration.”

Breakthrough Cancer Research has supported many of the initiatives that Prof O’Sullivan helped establish and said his lifetime of research stands as a towering legacy.

Prof O’Sullivan grew up on a farm at Milleenahorna outside Caheragh and attended Gurrane National School and later St Fachtna’s in Skibbereen.

Such was his legacy that the Kirby family donated four acres of land in Caheragh so it could be converted into the Prof O’Sullivan Park and act as a local amenity.

“Professor O’Sullivan died at the young age of 65 from cancer, a disease he had spent his whole career saving others from,” committee chairman Micheál Kirby said.

“We are so incredibly proud of his achievements and the man he became and want to encourage young people in our community to follow in his footsteps. Nothing is impossible when you have passion, determination and a kind heart. Gerry never forgot his roots in West Cork and we will always remember him.”

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