Roger McAtee: 'Roger fought a valiant battle but always kept a smile'
ROGER McAtee’s life may have been cruelly cut short aged just 46, but in his final weeks he at least gained some idea of the hugely positive impact he made on so many people in Kilkeel and beyond.
It was October 2021 when the Co Down man was first diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer and, after major surgery, was given 12-18 months to live.
There had been no warning signs. A fitness instructor, he had always been meticulous about his physical wellbeing and had completed a gruelling duathlon just a week earlier.
When intensive chemotherapy was unable to stop the disease, he searched for any possible way to extend his life and identified new treatment trials being run by Hope4Cancer in Mexico.
In a moving post on a GoFundMe page set up a month ago, Roger described himself as a fighter and appealed for the kindness of friends and strangers to help fund his “last-chance treatment”.
No-one could have known that just three weeks later, he would lose his battle after suffering a massive and sudden seizure, despite the tireless efforts of medical staff.
But by this time the appeal had already raised almost £20,000 following a deluge of donations as well as a range of fundraising events organised by family and friends.
Former classmates at Kilkeel High School organised a car wash, while ex-colleagues at the RNLI ran two weeks of special training exercises to collect cash.
"Like so many in the RNLI for years Roger selflessly put others before himself to save lives at sea so we now owe it to him to help him in his hour of need," it said.
His close friend Alan McVeigh, who helped organise the fundraising, said: “Roger fought a strong, valiant battle and always kept a smile on his face as he did so. That was just the way he was.
"While we miss him terribly, we take comfort he's not in pain any more – and by the fact that in the last three weeks he saw just how much he was loved throughout the entire community."
Roger had spent his whole life in Kilkeel, servicing life craft at the harbour after leaving school before finding his true vocation as a fitness instructor at the town's leisure centre.
From an early age it was clear he was a talented athlete, although modesty normally prevented him showing his abundant ability in competitions.
Instead, he was determined to share his gifts with others.
For 10 years he went above and beyond to assist others on their fitness journeys at Kilkeel Leisure Centre, giving everyone from disabled groups to high-performance athletes the same attention and interest.
He recorded in detailed diaries every exercise plan as well as the benefits both he and those he guided gained from their activities.
His brother Andy said he was "a meticulous person who supported everyone".
"He was always positive, and that was him to the very last minute. Despite what he was going through, he always supported me and my family and he adored his niece and nephew and his goddaughter Erin."
Alan said it was a life "cut way too short but it was a life well lived – it was a life that put others before himself, and it was a life he lived with a smile".
"He will never be forgotten and his legacy will live on long after we all have passed."
His family hope now that Roger's story and any donations those who contributed are still happy to make will help raise awareness of the need for screening for bowel cancer and support others going through the same experience.
:: For further information on bowel cancer symptoms or treatment see bowelcanceruk.org.uk.