Donal Walsh was the bravest and most inspirational person I ever had the pleasure of knowing. The funny thing is that I know fully that he would’ve hated me saying that he was an amazing person, just as much as he hated anyone telling him to keep his chin up, as if they thought that he would let his problems consume him. He never did. He remained the generous, kind and loving guy I knew as a child right up until his death. Today, June 15th 2013, Donal’s birthday, his words about his struggle echo in my head.
“I live in a part of the world that is surrounded by mountains. I can’t turn my head without finding a bloody hill or mountain and I suppose those were God’s plans for me. To have me grow up around mountains and grow climbing a few too. And that’s exactly what I’ve done, I may have grown up in body around them but I’ve fully grown and matured in mind climbing his mountains.
I am always called brave, heroic, kind, genuine, honourable and so many other kind compliments, but I have to try and explain to everyone why I seem to reject them. I have never fought for anyone but myself, therefore I cannot be brave or heroic, and I’ve only been kind because my religion has taught me so. What impact could I ever make on the world if I was fake or how could I ever be honourable if I was not honoured to be here.
I am me. There is no other way of putting it, little old Donal Walsh from Tralee, one body, one mind with a few other cobwebs and tales thrown in.
I’ve climbed God’s mountains, faced many struggles for my life and dealt with so much loss. And as much as I’d love to go around to every fool on this planet and open their eyes to the mountains that surround them in life, I can’t. But maybe if I shout from mine they’ll pay attention.
If I start to accept these compliments, I’m afraid of what I’ll become. Will I be braver than YE? Will I be kinder than YE? More genuine than YE? Or more honourable than YE? Better than YE? No. I can never accept that there is a YE. We are all the same; we are all given one body, one mind. The only difference for me is that I’m looking from the mountain.”
My own memories of him are happy, all of them except the last time I saw him. I remember him at under 12’s for Tralee RFC, ball in hand. He was the biggest guy on our team and it always took three guys, two hanging off his back and one at his ankles, to take him down once he got moving.
The first time I heard he had been diagnosed I was in my first month of boarding school it was late and I was in bed. It was the first time since I had started there that I felt homesick. All I wanted to do was go home. I couldn’t believe it. I hoped it was some sort of sick practical joke. But 10 months and 26 chemo sessions later he had it finally beaten, although he had lost half of his knee with it he still remained the happy guy I always knew.
The second time he was diagnosed was February 15th 2012 I remember feeling pissed off at everyone and kept saying to myself that it wasn’t fair I was a little older and had been through it with him once already so I knew what to expect. He now had an aggressive tumour in his lung and like the true fighter he was he battled through cancer a second time, losing half his lung in the struggle.
He then continued to be as healthy as he possibly could, by going to the gym every day and cycling as much as possible. Sometimes he would cycle up to 60 kilometres a day. Until he was hit by a car which caused damage in his shoulder. This car accident made the doctors notice a cancerous tumour forming in his right shoulder.
The last time Donal was told he had cancer he remained positive, until he was told that he would die. He was told that they could cure him but it was very likely that if he did survive it would come back. It was definitely going to kill him, even if he did beat it this time then it would almost certainly come back. This was his burden to carry. By November the doctors found another tumour in his foot, and several tumours in his right lung. His family were advised to have an early Christmas and that he would be very lucky to see 2013. But Donal was having none it. He continued to go on nights out with the lads and party until after the New Year he seemed healthy and no one really believed he was sick, but behind the scenes the cancer was spreading rapidly throughout his body. Although he was very sick and the doctors kept giving him deadlines, Paddy’s day, and Easter, he defied all the odds and survived all the way to summer.
He rose to fame after an appearance on the Saturday night show when he spoke out about teen suicide and he gave people a reason to be thankful for what they have. His message has inspired so many people. The letters of praise about him still arrive to his family home to this day.
I miss Donal. I, and all who very close with him loved him like a brother and although I’ll never see him again his message still lives on.