SUNDERLAND AFC manager Martin O’Neill has told hospital patients of his family’s own struggle with cancer.
The Black Cats boss opened his heart as he opened a new hospital unit on Wearside.
Touched by the stories he heard, O’Neill spoke of his wife Geraldine’s fight with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, praising the “spirit” of those living with the condition.
He was visiting patients and staff on the new Phoenix Unit, for those undergoing chemotherapy at Sunderland Royal Hospital, which he officially opened.
He said: “Sometimes you get on with life without ever actually seeing what is happening in your own life. It happened to me.
“In 2004 my wife was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She went through chemotherapy which didn’t appear to work and so, in 2005, she went on to have stem cell treatment.
“She is still fighting on. She has real spirit about her, in fact, she fights with me every single day and she always wins.”
O’Neill was speaking after spending time with patients on the ward, each facing their own battles with cancer.
He said: “When you get the chance to speak to people like I have today, it really makes you realise what’s important in life.”
It was in the middle of his wife’s illness that O’Neill first turned down the chance to manage Sunderland, the club he supported as a boy, fearing she was not well enough.
When the club’s owner and chairman, Ellis Short, came knocking again, O’Neill had the support of his wife and the pair moved to the North East.
O’Neill took time out of his busy schedule to tour the ward, speaking to those undergoing treatment.
Geoff Pearson, 54, of South Hetton, Sunderland, is having his fourth bout of chemotherapy for liver and lung cancer.
He said: “I’ve been waiting here since 8.30am to see him. It’s fantastic that he’s made the time to look around the place. I was treated in the old ward and this place is much better, there’s more space and privacy if you need it.”
O’Neill was given a tour of the unit by department manager Jill Bell.
She said: “This is an inspiring and amazing place to work. It really makes you look at life in a different way and think about what’s important.
“I’m so proud of all the people here, the staff and patients. The fact Martin O’Neill has chosen to come here has been very exciting for us all.”