Jemma and Gary’s Story
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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.”