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Irish dance community helps to fight cancer

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Shannon Callahan, mother of four, made the long drive from Haymarket to Baltimore for her daughter Aine’s first regional Irish dancing competition, despite being in the city the day before at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a post-op cancer check-up. Callahan proudly watched Aine win first place in the under 8 division, and unexpectedly received support from her friends at McGrath Dance Academy.

Two years ago, Callahan won her first battle against colon cancer. In October 2016, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver. Callahan shared the news with friends she’s made through McGrath Academy, where her daughter takes dance lessons. The news spread at the three-day Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America Southern Region Oirachatas competition Dec. 2, 2016. Aine’s coach and dance school owner, Lauren McGrath Dutton, wanted to help. 

“I think (with) friends, family and faith — the three of them mixed together — you can tackle anything." Shannon Callahan

“When I found out the cancer had come back I was (distraught),” said Dutton.  

With the assistance of Katy Gareau, president of the Claddagh Irish Dance Association, they assembled a table alongside vendors, and held a raffle to raise donations. Through word of mouth, social media and posters, vendors donated retail items to support the Callahan family. 

“Most items were related to Irish dance,” said Gareau. Some of them included Irish step dancing shoes, wigs and gift certificates. “The biggest item was a Taylor dress; they usually (cost $1,000).”

“It was totally unexpected,” said Callahan. “It was mindblowing to have the support from McGrath. It was something my family truly needed, just that light at the end of tunnel.”

In total, the raffle raised more than $2,000, and inspired friends from the academy and the dance association to continue their support.

“We actually have had a lot of families make meals for the Callahans,” said Gareau. 

In addition, a page on giveforward.com was created to cover gas and overnight stays in Baltimore, where Callahan continues to receive treatment. Of the $5,000 financial goal, 42 percent has been donated. Callahan is included in several prayer lists, such as the one at Seton School in Manassas. 

She sought support from her pastor, Father Christopher D. Murphy, at St. Katherine Drexel Mission Church in Bull Run, and received anointing of the sick before her first treatment, saying it was a great comfort. 

Callahan also took comfort in being present when Aine won first place at the regional competition. 

“It was such a blessing, she’s been working so hard. It brings a smile to my face just to think about it,” she said.

Callahan returns to Johns Hopkins this week to begin another procedure.

“I think (with) friends, family and faith — the three of them mixed together — you can tackle anything,” she said.

Find out more

To support the Callahans go to bit.ly/2iL4WHE.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017