A young Craigavon woman’s dream to become a primary school teacher provided the light at the end of the tunnel during the dark days she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
So determined was mother-of-three Lisa McClarnon (38) to qualify as a teacher that she refused to put her teacher training on hold, instead alternating her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment with lectures at Coleraine University.
Lisa admits herself that she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life when she was at school.
“I didn’t work hard enough when I was at school,” she said. “When I left Lurgan College after fifth form I had no idea what to do with myself.
“I always wanted to work with kids so I went back to tech and got myself a position at the Ozanam Centre.
“Once I got started I knew this was the career for me. Fourteen years ago I got a job as a classroom assistant at St Peter’s which later became St Francis’. I worked with special needs children, then I was a literacy assistant.
“Most of all I wanted to become a teacher. Mr McMorrow and the all the staff at St Francis’ have been very supportive and pushed me to pursue my dream.
“I did a degree to get a BA in Education part time when I was a classroom assistant. My dad got bowel cancer during that degree and sadly passed away after I completed it.”
Lisa continued to push herself in pursuit of her goal and got a place at Coleraine to do a PGCE. Unfortunately more tragedy was to befall Lisa.
“Two months into my PGCE I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
“I was getting chemotherapy then radiotherapy and in the meantime I wanted to continue my studies. I was able to go for lectures but wasn’t allowed into the schools to do my placement.”
Lisa explained how she made the early detection.
She said: “My dad had had bowel cancer and my mum had a lump on her breast. She drilled it into me to check and it was when I was checking myself that I found a lump.
“I went to the doctor straight away and they red flagged me for treatment. Nobody can explain chemotherapy to you even if they’ve been through it. It’s horrendous.
“My boys and my desire to become a teacher got me through it. I love getting up in the morning and going into school.”
Having completed her course of treatment and her degree Lisa got her first teaching post at her old stomping ground - St Francis’ - providing maternity cover.
Lisa has organised various fundraisers for the Mandeville Unit including a skydive and a function in Lurgan Golf Club. She recently finished runner-up in the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Education.
Lisa has three children - Sam (14), Ben (10) and Finn (8). She has been married to Glenn, a former boxer, for 14 years. She said: “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends.”
Offering advice to anyone going through a similar experience she said: “You have to stay positive and stay strong. My boys never saw me cry.
“For me, I got myself through by focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel - my boys and becoming a teacher.”