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'My mam was the life and soul of every room she walked into. She always made things better'

My mam, Paula, was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. I was four years old when she explained to me that her hair was going to fall out because of chemotherapy, writes Amy Mulvaney.

Amy Mulvaney

I WALKED THROUGH the kitchen, ran the tap and filled the kettle. “Does anyone want tea?” I chirped. I knew in the back of my mind that something was wrong. I could feel it in the air. My dad gulped. “Amy, can you sit down for a second?”

Days. That’s all that was left. That’s what life comes down to isn’t it? For some it’s months, for others it’s minutes. For us it was days. How many days we didn’t know, all I knew that in a few days, someone I’d always presumed would be there for my entire life would be gone.

My dad and I spent the next few days in the hospital. We slept on the floor of the visiting area, telling my mam that we were going out for food and would be back soon. Being an only child, growing up it was always myself, my mam and my dad.

We were a pretty solid team, but we were about to lose our captain.

Coming back 

My mam, Paula, was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. I was four years old and when she explained to me that her hair was going to fall out because of chemotherapy, I responded:

But then it will grow back in the spring! Like the baby lambs and chicks!

Over 12 years she had cancer six times. In her breast, in her ovary, a fleck on her brain, a spot in her liver. Cancer speckled itself around her slim, strong body.

It wasn’t until I grew up that I really understood what cancer was. To me, it was a sickness as common as the flu.

After getting the all-clear from the doctors before Christmas and spending 18 months cancer free, in January 2011 my mam caught yellow jaundice. The jaundice caused a hotspot of cancer in her liver to ignite and it rapidly spread.

At 2.03am on Sunday 23 January 2011 in the Mater Private hospital, my mother’s nearest and dearest gathered around her bed for our last few moments together.

She was 43.

The years were a blur 

The next few days, and years, were a blur. We chose music for the church, Run by Leona Lewis being one of my mam’sfavourite songs. For the endless shaking of hands with faces I didn’t know, REM Everybody Hurts echoed through the high ceiling and marbled floors.

When I think back to the last five years, I can truly say that I don’t know where the time went. Some days I’m not too sure if it’s summer 2012 or winter 2015.

Everything is measured by the day that we said our goodbyes. To lose the woman who gave birth to me is something I can’t describe. Some days, most days, it just doesn’t feel real.

My mam was the life and soul of every room she walked into. Heads would turn as she walked in, her hair perfectly styled and positioned, her teal coat nipping in at the waist and a smile that one million euros dental work wouldn’t get you.

Kindness just oozed out of her. She told me of a time she once gave an old woman a lift home because it was raining out. And another when she saw a young girl lost on the street and she brought her to where she needed to be.

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She always had a positive attitude 

Even when she was battling illness, she put other people’s problems before hers. Despite everything, she always held a positive attitude, something that is ingrained in me now. I think that in life we all have one person who can, no matter what, always make things better.

My mam was that person.

To experience the loss of the closest person in your life at 15 years old, or at any age, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

Over the past five years, while my mam physically hasn’t been there, I feel her presence every day. When the light flickers or I see “23” anywhere (her birthday and date she passed away), I smile a silent, “Hi mam!”

What she taught me in 15 years is more than some can teach in a lifetime. The skills and traits she gave me are what keep me going on the darkest of days.

She taught me to be strong. To hold my head up high. To always be kind to others. She taught me to take life every single day as it comes. She taught me, in her words, that “as sure as eggs are eggs, tomorrow will come”.

I laughed when I heard this at 13, saying “Mam, eggs?! What are you on about?” But today it’s a quote that I’ll always remember. No matter what the day brings, good or bad, the sun will set and rise again. There will always be a new day.

To have had a mother so wonderful for those 15 years is the greatest blessing. I take what she’s taught me everywhere I go. And while there may only be two of us in our team now, my mam gave us everything we need to carry on as strong as ever.

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About the author:

Amy Mulvaney

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