First Published September 2021
STARS BACK MARK ON CANCER VOYAGE
Some of Irish music’s biggest names have come together to help raise funds for a young father and teacher, MARK HAYES, who is currently in Mexico receiving potentially life-saving cancer treatment.
Ireland’s king of country Daniel O’ Donnell, country superstar Nathan Carter, the multi-talented Cliona Hagan, Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan, Sawdoctors legend Leo Moran,Offaly’s man for all seasons Simon Casey, songwriter and presenter Marc Roberts, folk star Don Stiffe, and one-third of the famous Three Amigos Jimmy Buckley, have joined songwriting great Johnny Duhan in recording a very special version of Duhan’s classic hit THE VOYAGE in aid of the forty-three year-old Westmeath man who is bravely battling colon cancer.
THE MARK HAYES PROJECT, as this collective of extraordinary talent is known, will release THE VOYAGE across all digital platforms on Friday, September 24th, with the single available to pre-add/pre-save right now, and also available to request at radio stations nationwide.
In the years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve often told you guys that there’s a certain single or maybe an album by an artist that you’ve “got to” go get and add to your collection. Usually, of course, that’s no more than a recommendation of something that I’ve really enjoyed on a personal level, most often by an artist I usually have a lot of respect and admiration for as well, and I do it because I hope you’ll get to experience that same sense of joy. But ultimately, of course, whatever you decide to do is completely up to you.
This week, though, and this time, it’s different. Very different.
I’m not simply giving you my opinion on The Voyage by The Mark Hayes Project. I am straight up asking you to BUY this single. And more than simply asking you, I’m going to say please, please, and PLEASE again, because this is important in ways that are almost beyond the scope of any words to put shape on. By doing this, you’ll be helping to give Mark a fighting chance in his ongoing battle against cancer. And let’s face it…there but for the grace of God – or just luck, call it what you want – go any of us.
So, right now, if you can, please go to the website www.marksfight.ie, and click on the link that will let you pre-add or pre-save the record. And while you’re there – and only if you’re in a position to do so – maybe you could think about making a donation to Mark’s GoFundMe campaign as well. By pre-adding or pre-saving the record, you won’t have to do a thing on the day of its official release on September 24th, it will go straight into your music library. You’ll find that same link in my bio on Instagram (AnthonyOTRT).
The Voyage is also available to request from radio stations all over Ireland right now too, so please request it everywhere and anywhere you can as well, because that will also help to raise awareness of Mark’s fight.
Now, on to the man himself. Let’s get to Mark’s story…
Mark Hayes is a father to two young daughters – Emma and Olivia – with his wife Marie. He was a fit, healthy, and active thirty-nine year old who had hardly ever been sick in his life when his world was turned upside-down by his colorectal cancer diagnosis in 2017. At first, the shock of that news was tempered by the assurance that his tumour could be removed, an operation Mark underwent in February 2018.
Sadly, however, that sense of relief was short-lived as tumours were revealed on his liver just a few months later in November, leaving Mark in a fight against stage-4 cancer. Despite the right side of his liver being removed at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, the cancer returned within a few weeks of that operation. At that point, and in those circumstances, Mark and his family were given the devastating news that two years was probably the best outcome they could hope for in terms of his life-expectancy.
With further surgery on his liver not an option, and with continued chemotherapy the only treatment on offer here in Ireland, Mark and his family began the search for additional treatments that might be possible abroad. With Mark no longer working in his role as a teacher at Merlin College in Galway, a GoFundMe was set up by his family. And with the support that option has generated from people all across the country, Mark has so far been able to avail of several treatments outside of Ireland, and is currently in Mexico.
However, these trips, and his continuing fortnightly chemotherapy sessions have exhausted a substantial amount of the funds already raised up to now. While the cancer remains confined to Mark’s liver, recent scans have shown that further tumours are also present there. This development means that time – now, more than ever – is of the essence in Mark’s fight. His continued treatment at the Berkeley Institute International Centre in Ensenada, Mexico is what could end up saving Mark’s life.
Thanks to the incredible outpouring of love and support from Mark’s family, friends, and so many generous souls who they don’t even know – and might never even know – the GoFundMe has already raised in excess of €100,000. However, to put this amazing figure in its true context in relation to where Mark currently is in his battle and with his treatment, it is vital to stress that a substantialamount of these funds have already been drawn down and used.
For this reason, because Mark’s fight – in every sense – is still ongoing, we need to continue to fundraise and to highlight his situation. This is where, and why, we really need everyone to help raise awareness of both the single and the GoFundMe, by helping to spread the word about both, and again – if possible – by please supporting both.
Marie, Mark’s wife – who works in the Galway Clinic – explains further why it’s so important that fundraising efforts continue…
“The GoFundMe campaign (aka ‘Mark’s Fight’) was set up in December 2019 to fund supplementary treatment for Mark. The initial target was €100,000. Research was underway for any therapy or treatment that could help him. We decided we would tackle this disease from every angle possible. With Stage 4 cancer, we could not rely solely on standard of care treatment, we simply had to try more. It could be the combination of modalities that make the difference.”
Marie continued, “Thanks to the immense generosity of all who donated to ‘Marks’ Fight’ to date, Mark was able to avail of multiple treatments in Spain and the UK, in conjunction with his fortnightly chemotherapy sessions here. We believe that the two dendritic cell vaccines he received along with several IRE ablations (Nanoknife®) and more recently the use of the “Care Oncology Clinic (COC) protocol”, is the reason that Mark has maintained some disease stability. The cost of these treatments are very high and the funds raised were disappearing quickly.”
In April 2021, reports showed that there was some progression in Mark’s liver tumours, despite being on continuous chemotherapy. The side-effects of the chemo drugs were intensifying and now it appeared that the cancer was beginning to out-smart it. Marie takes up the story again…
“Research led us to a biotech company in the US (Berkeley Institute) who have figured out a way of giving chemotherapy at a higher dose and with less side effects (SEF Chemo) and they have reported many positive outcomes. If there was any chance that this could help Mark in his fight, then we had to try. So, in April 2021 the GoFundMe campaign was re-ignited and the target was increased to €200,000. Over 90% of the initial funds raised had now been used in ongoing treatments for Mark, so we had to start again. The response has been overwhelming and by August 2021, there was sufficient funding to allow Mark to travel to Berkeley Institute’s international centre in Mexico to receive his first treatment of SEF chemo. It is very challenging for Mark to live so far away from his family while receiving this treatment, but throughout the past four years, he has always been determined not to give in to his diagnosis.”
“This is a trial treatment,” Marie stresses, “and several sessions will need to be completed before doctors can tell if Mark will respond well. So we need to be able to keep him there for as long as it takes.”
As for The Voyage itself, well listen, almost everyone in Ireland knows Johnny Duhan’s beautiful song, thanks in the main to Christy Moore. And over the years, it has, of course, been recorded by many more artists. This version, however, must surely rate as one of the most beautiful that there’s ever been. Certainly as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the story behind it on this occasion adds even more emotion and poignancy to every line.
But even if listening to this record from a purely musical point of view, it has to be said that this collection of voices blend together exquisitely. And they’ve all been captured expertly by Tony Maher and Joe Egan.
As well as the line-up of stellar vocalists involved in this project, the musicians featured are some of the finest in the land. There’s Mairtin O’ Connor on accordion, Ciara O’ Connor on fiddle, Jim Higgins on percussion, Frank Kelly on the gut string guitar, Enda Dempsey on acoustic and electric Guitars and vocal harmonies, James Blennerhasset on upright bass, and Tony Maher himself on piano and synth.
But beyond all the famous-names and star-players involved in this project, the very reason why this recording of The Voyage even exists at all, can be described in one simple word…love.
Everybody involved in the project, regardless of whether or not they even know Mark personally themselves…they know love.
They know Mark’s family – his wife Marie and their two young daughters, Emma and Olivia – and his friends, all love him like we all love our own families and our friends. And they know that love can change everything. And in a situation where love was all they could give – in the form of their talent and time – then they were willing to give their all. And they have. And you can hear it – that love – in every line of The Voyage, a version that is as much a prayer as it is a song.
If you can find the couple of minutes it will take to go and pre-add or pre-save the song today, it will mean the world to a whole lot of people. Not least of all, a young father who – as you read these very lines – is sitting alone today in Mexico dreaming of being back at home in Ireland with his three girls…
~ THE VOYAGE, by The Mark Hayes Project, will be available on all platforms from FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24th, and is already available to pre-add/pre-save RIGHT NOW by clicking on the link you’ll find at the website, www.marksfight.ie The Voyage is also available to request from radio stations all around the country right now.