Terminally ill cancer patient who oversaw launch of The Big One rollercoaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach marries partner of 23 years

A terminally ill businesswoman who oversaw the launch of The Big One has married her partner of 23 years as she battles breast cancer for the third time.

By Rebecca Beardmore
Friday, 27th August 2021, 3:45 pm

Helen O’Neill, 62, from Congleton, is battling incurable breast cancer for the third time, after an initial diagnosis of the disease in 2006 at the age of 48.

She was a freelancer in PR at the time, having worked on numerous North West marketing projects including the launch of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s The Big One rollercoaster.

But despite over a decade of struggles - which now sees her battling cancer again after a third diagnosis this summer - Helen fulfilled her dream wedding to partner of 23 years, Ian Pailin, in Congleton in August.

Breast cancer sufferer Helen O'Neill married her partner of 23 years, Ian Pailin, in a ceremony in Congleton in August. Pic: Dave Nelson

Helen said: “Ian has lived every step of my cancer journey over the last 14 years.

"We decided to make the event a simultaneous wedding and living funeral with friends flying in from various places in Europe. Despite my news, we wanted it to be a happy, life affirming, upbeat affair and for me to have an opportunity to say goodbye to friends who I very rarely see in person.

“At a low ebb, on Sunday August 1, I sent out an email from my sickbed, for an urgent wedding reception. Within an hour, the Alexandra Court Hotel had sent menus, room availability, and as a team, we’ve organised the whole event in 23 days. Various friends brought music, sorted the photography, designed invites, and organised bunting and flowers.”

Helen had to stop working during her first cancer while she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy at Macclesfield District General Hospital, followed by radiotherapy at The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester, and decided not to go back to work after recovering.

She attended regular screenings, but in 2011 she developed a sarcoma which was removed in an operation at Wythenshawe Hospital.

“I was thankful to be under the care of the internationally renowned sarcoma team at The Christie as I had such a rare form of sarcoma - spindle cell sarcoma,” Helen added.

However, despite being cancer free for nearly 10 years, in summer this year Helen received the devastating news that she had secondary breast cancer.

She was told that although the cancer was treatable, it was not curable.

Helen is expected to start weekly chemotherapy sessions to prolong her life with her new husband Ian as much as possible - but said her diagnosis had shone a light on the true friendships in her life.

She continued: “It’s so different this time being terminally ill. I was shocked and scared but Ian and I are getting on with it as best we can. As a society, we just don’t deal well with death or mortality. Some friends have been fantastic, but some have disappeared after years of friendship. It shows that some people can cope with reality and some can’t."

Helen is now backing Manchester The Christie’s new £26m cancer centre in Macclesfield, after having to travel there daily during her first cancer battle for radiotherapy.

The new cancer centre is due to open in December, and Helen praised her doctors and treatment in a bid to reassure other cancer sufferers they were in safe hands.

She said: “I travelled to The Christie for 15 radiotherapy sessions in the summer of 2007, so I know how gruelling and tiring it is going to Withington every weekday for three consecutive weeks of treatment. Although the service at The Christie was excellent, the drive was horrific and there were problems with parking. A half hour appointment could take most of the day and it is emotionally very tough. Ian drove me to most of my appointments, including all the radiotherapy appointments, and it was tough on him too.”

“Having been diagnosed with cancer for the third time, I am relieved that The Christie at Macclesfield will be so close to home. Being able to have all your cancer treatment in one place where there is continuity and that you are familiar with will be really important to me. I’m excited about the new cancer centre as it looks so amazing and I am sure that patients using it will get the very highest standards of Christie care and treatment once it opens.

“My Christie oncologist, Dr Lisa Barraclough, has been outstanding, providing 12 years of support and medical expertise at my regular check-ups. She is very approachable, and we’ve become as close and friendly as is professionally possible in an oncologist/patient relationship. We have a good laugh at most appointments, as a healthy sense of humour is vital when you’re going through so much trauma. I’m now under an equally brilliant Christie oncologist, specialising in the very latest breast cancer chemotherapy, Dr Vanessa Clay."

The Christie charity said it needs to raise £23 million to get the new centre up and running.

You can donate here or call The Christie on 0161 446 3988.