In Your Words

Adult and child holding hands

Jemma and Gary’s Story

Gary, a young soul with a big heart, recently lost his dad, Kevin, after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour called Glioblastoma. Tragically, just two years before, Gary also lost his mother. Amid the heartbreak of losing his dad, Gary’s Aunty Jemma took her nephew into her home and provided him with security, support, and unconditional love. Jemma, who was with her loving, funny and nature-loving brother when he received the bombshell of his cancer diagnosis, explains the impact this news had on her family and the support she received from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland. “It felt like the world beneath us just crumbled. Immediately, my brother’s thoughts were for his son Gary – the thought of leaving him behind was a constant source of anguish.” “We clearly needed support as a family but every gram of energy we had was dedicated to Gary. Kevin would wait until he went to school each day then spend hours just crying and worrying terribly about his son’s future.”   In October 2021, Kevin underwent a debulking operation, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. After this, he received chemotherapy at home each month until the summer of 2022. “My brother faced it all with bravery and gratefulness. He knew that the treatment was giving him life and precious time with Gary. During the school holidays, they travelled to and from Carlingford creating special memories together.”   Soon, Gary was ten years old and had become his dad’s primary carer. They shared one last Christmas together before the decision was made for Gary to live permanently with his aunt while Kevin was eventually moved into a hospice. “Both Kevin and I were ready to tell Gary that his dad’s illness was going to get worse and take his life. But we just had no idea how to do it. We didn’t have the right words, which wasn’t surprising as we hadn’t accepted this reality ourselves. How could we expect a child to? It was at this point that Cancer Focus NI came into our lives thanks to a referral by Dr Harney at the Cancer Center in City Hospital.” “I spoke to the most wonderful Family Support Worker, Lisa, who immediately recognised our needs better than we even did. Since then, she has been with our family every step of the way to offer essential advice and support.” “What’s wonderful about the service is the time Lisa spends with Gary. She can have the conversations that we are unable to have with Gary, who we just want to protect from everything. Lisa created a safe space which supported him to talk about what’s on his mind and about his dad’s terminal illness.”   In a touching moment, Lisa brought arts and crafts to the hospice for Gary and his dad, where they made priceless keepsakes like a mug and Christmas baubles covered with Kevin’s fingerprints – a powerful and cherished tribute preserving his memory. Kevin passed away on 20 May 2023 with the knowledge that his son was in the safe hands of his sister and that the family were being supported by a passionate local charity. “Now that my brother is gone, I’m in a place where I am still grieving but also having to remember how to be a parent again. Luckily, Cancer Focus NI are there with me as I manoeuvre this minefield. The support Lisa provides to us is life changing. I honestly know that I could never have navigated my nephew’s emotional needs without her guidance.” “Having the charity’s Family Support service at hand really helps build the emotional strength needed at a time when you are at your most broken.”

Breast cancer patient Kate uses our lifeline services

Mum of three Kate Gray is battling metastatic breast cancer – so breast cancer awareness month in October is especially poignant for her. Kate, husband David and daughters Emily (10), Connie (7) and Megan (4) have had tremendous support from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

Counselling was my saviour

Hello, my name is Paul Jeffcutt. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer: renal cell carcinoma. When the doctor told me the news, I thought my life was at an end. I sank down in the hospital bed in fear with n0 one to talk to.  

Kerrie appeals for support for breast cancer research

In Your Words Kerrie Douglas (34) from Ballymoney is waiting to have preventative surgery after she found out she has the BRCA2 mutant gene. Kerrie has three children, Mackenzie (14), Khalyn (8) and Cade (7).

Debra Rice In pink breast cancer

Mum Debra calls for support for cancer research

Debra Rice (44) was diagnosed with breast cancer and shortly after, was confirmed as a BRCA1 carrier. Debra shares her story with us below and underlines why funding into research is so important for her and her 8 year old daughter.

BRCA mum calls for support for breast cancer research

Ciara McKenna (31), a receptionist from Armagh, is married to Michael (35) and they have four boys, Kian (7), Ryan (5), Marc (4) and Ethan (five months). Ciara and her sister Siobhan Conlon (29), who is expecting her first baby, both have BRCA 1.

Emily runs the extra mile for Cancer Focus NI

There’s no stopping breast cancer patient Emily Stanton who was so full of determination to run the Belfast marathon for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland that she trained by jogging to hospital for her radiotherapy sessions.

Donna’s Teal Takeover

When her dad Matthew got cancer, Donna Shortt, decided to turn her home town Crumlin teal (Cancer Focus NI’s colour) for a week and hold a host of fundraising events from a car wash and zumbathon to a family fun day and a tug of war.

Gary takes on Marathon May

Life can change in an instant. From being a healthy and active person one day to being diagnosed with lung cancer the next, in August 2012 on his daughter’s 30th birthday, this is exactly what happened to Holywood man Gary Vint.

Mike’s malignant melanoma story

Retired college lecturer Mike Moran was urged by his son to have a mole on his back examined by his GP. Mike was conscious of the mole but as it was symptomless never had it checked out by a health care professional. “I used to monitor it and my wife would examine it but I never thought to go to my GP and have it examined. I used to cover it up and apply sun cream when out in the sun ,” he said.

Kicking the habit

Gerard Rogan, from west Belfast, is an electrical and mechanical engineer at local manufacturing company, Montupet. With the help of Cancer Focus NI’s Stop Smoking service, Gerard successfully stopped smoking after 12 years.

Skin cancer scar

Michele Slane (41), from Belfast, is married to Francis and has two children Neil (22) and Kirsty (10).  Michele, who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2010, warns of the dangers of sunbeds and sunbathing. She says:

Proud to be a quitter

Teenager Rachel Armstrong joined forces with Cancer Focus NI on No Smoking Day to urge smokers to kick the habit. The 15-year-old started smoking when she was just 10.

Check your neck

Belfast mum Kylee Murphy wants to alert other young women to the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer  after getting a shock diagnosis in 2015. The 29-year-old recently finished her treatment and is waiting to find out if it’s been a success.

Writing can help

Louise Gough was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. Her cancer has come back for a third time and she’s pinning her hopes on her very last cycle of chemotherapy – but keeps on smiling.

Looking to a brighter future

Mother and daughter Margaret Copeland, from Newtownhamilton, and Sharon Adams, from Dungannon, both made the brave decision to have double mastectomies when they discovered they had the BRCA 2 mutant gene, which greatly increases the risk of breast cancer.