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Cancer patient’s poem moves Senedd to tears

22 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Picture: Tenovus Cancer Care

Chris HainesICNN Senedd reporter

A cancer patient’s poignant poem about his experiences moved the Senedd to tears.

Mal O’Donnell, a former painter and decorator from Cardiff, launched a collection of his poetry at a Tenovus Cancer Care event in the Senedd this week.

In a touching address, Mark Drakeford read one of his poems, The Waiting Room, which can be found below, with members of the audience moved to tears by the reading.

Mal, a steering group member of the charity’s All-Wales Cancer Community, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 which sadly spread to his bones before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the collection, the 77-year-old powerfully charts his cancer journey over the past 13 years and specifically since he’s been supported by Tenovus Cancer Care a decade ago.

‘Harrowing’

Some of the poems recall his harrowing long waits for treatment during the pandemic and the fear and loneliness he felt during that time.

His powerful poetry collection, Walk with me – Hold My Hand, will now be available in Tenovus shops for a small donation to cover publishing costs.

“I hope my poetry stirs emotions in people – that it makes them think, touches a nerve and places them with me, in this thing called life,” said Mal.

“Living with cancer for over 10 years really sharpens the mind. It gives you a real perspective on life – you see things clearer, sharper and it makes you more passionate.”

Some of Mal’s poems were translated into Welsh by author Bethan Marlow while the book was designed by Amanda Pritchard, Tenovus’ graphic designer, who volunteered her time.

‘Work of art’

Speaking following the event, which was attended by MSs from across Wales, Prof Drakeford was full of praise for Mal, who lives in Ely in his Cardiff West constituency.

The ex-first minister said: “At the heart of Wednesday’s event, designed to encourage cancer patients to raise awareness, was a book of poems written by cancer patient Mal O’Donnell.

“The poems are both intensely personal but also manage to illuminate experiences which are vivid in the lives of many cancer patients.

“The Welsh translation of one of the poems I read, Waiting Room, is a work of art in its own right, faithfully conveying the original but doing so in a way which uses the resources of the Welsh language to capture Mal’s experience.”

The charity’s Sing with Us choirs, from Abergavenny and Merthyr Tydfil, performed at the event which was held in the Senedd’s glass-fronted main hall or Neuadd.

The theme of this year’s All-Wales Cancer Community’s summer tea – which was sponsored by Aberavon MS David Rees, chair of the cross-party group on cancer – was self-advocacy.

‘Self advocacy’

Judi Rhys, chief executive of Tenovus Cancer Care, said: “Self-advocacy with cancer is not just about going to the GP, it’s about having a voice too and how you use it.

“We know at Tenovus Cancer Care that for many people talking about cancer – a disease that generates such fear and apprehension – talking sometimes doesn’t come easily.

“Self-advocacy can take different forms – and in this instance I want to celebrate self-advocacy through poetry – in particular the poetry of our All-Wales Cancer Community steering group member, Mal O’Donnell.

“Throughout Mal’s cancer journey his navigation of that journey, writing and poetry has provided him with comfort and an expressive outlet.”

Wednesday’s event also officially launched ‘Tea for Ten’, the fundraising tea party season at Tenovus Cancer Care, which takes place throughout July.

The All-Wales Cancer Community has 200 members from every corner of the country. For more details, including how to join, visit tenovuscancercare.org.uk.

The Waiting Room – Mal O’Donnell

It’s hard to find love
On show in this place
Backs against the wall
Stiff upper lip
Don’t let your emotions
Start to slip
If the floodgates start to open
You know they won’t stop
So, we must stick together
Before we go over the top
Let’s talk about the weather
It really looks like a nice day
But don’t look too far ahead
Storm clouds could be gathering
Inside your head

I can’t sit next to you or you or you
And invade your space
The subject you want to talk about
Is written all over your face
All the words fly around
We are just wasting time
So, we can slowly move up
To the front of the line
When our name is called
No words left to say
We are going in
To find out
If it really is a sunny day.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
22 days ago

Was the Health Minister or First Minister there ?

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