'I'll make sure that my son never forgets his mum'
Gary McBride has vowed to honour the memory of his wife Pamela by raising awareness of the illness that cruelly took her from them aged just 24.
Gary McBride met his future wife Pamela when they were still at school. He fell for her straight away and knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
They got married in April 2010 and not long after, discovered they were expecting their first child. But in a cruel twist of fate, the Waterford couple were robbed of their future together as aged just 24; Pamela was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died two years later, leaving behind her young husband and their baby son.
On September 6, Gary, now 29, will take part in the Colour Dash Fun Run in Cork to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society and awareness of the need for early diagnosis.
"Pamela was my childhood sweetheart and we were together through school and college," he says. "We got married on April 30 2010 and were expecting our first baby at the end of the year. But that November, we were driving to Dublin when Pamela had a strange little fit and wasn't able to speak without stuttering.
"The following day she went to the doctor who said it was probably a panic attack as she was only a month or so away from delivery. But she had another one a few days later and her mother was convinced that it was nothing to do with her pregnancy so took her to hospital for a check-up."
She was 36 weeks pregnant at this point and as staff could find nothing wrong she was told to go home. However, thanks to a vigilant nurse, a scan was ordered and the most unexpected diagnosis was revealed.
"Pamela had been discharged and was about to go home, when one of the nurses said she wasn't happy about it as there was clearly something wrong, so she spoke to a doctor who arranged a CT scan," says Gary. "Both myself and Ruth (Pamela's mother) were with her at the time when we were told they had detected a brain tumour - we couldn't have been more shocked.
"But because she was so young, none of us thought it would amount to much and were convinced that she would recover."
That was November 10 2010 - the following day, their son Adam was delivered by Caesarean.
"Things started to move very quickly after her diagnosis and we were told that our baby would have to come out early as Pamela would need to have brain surgery," Gary recalls. "She had a section on November 11 and then five days later, (on her birthday), she went to Cork for the operation.
"She went to theatre at 8am and we waited until 3pm before we heard any news - I was with Pamela's parents and Adam and it felt like forever. We had been under the impression that the tumour was benign, but once the surgery was over, we were told it was malignant - that was the biggest shock of all."
The new mother stayed in hospital for a week to recover from her operation and then returned home to begin chemo and radiotherapy which lasted well into the New Year. Once completed, they looked forward to enjoying their family life, which had been on hold -but more bad news was yet to come.
"Pamela was really strong throughout all the treatment and both our families were fantastic in helping with Adam, so once it was over, we were keen to start living a normal life, but then she began to experience problems with her vision," says Gary.
"In April 2011, Pamela couldn't see out of one eye and it became sort of twisted, so she went for another scan which revealed that the tumour had come back. We were devastated, to say the least.
"But she went back to Cork for further surgery and we were overjoyed when we were told that it was a cyst. Surgeons put a shunt into her brain so it would make it easier to drain fluid off it should it happen again. But this second bout of surgery affected her really badly and she spent six weeks in bed.
"I had a job in printing at the time and had to take time off to look after her - the rest of the family also took it in turns to help out - so between us all, we managed to get on with things even though it was very hard."
Once she had recovered from her second ordeal, the mother-of-one seemed to bounce back to her normal self and the young family tentatively started enjoying life together. But just over a year later, she suffered a relapse and Gary feared that his wife wasn't likely to survive.
"By the end of 2011, Pamela was doing really well and all her routine scans came back clear, so we started to do normal things together," he says. "We went over to the UK to see a Man United match in October and had a lovely time for Adam's first birthday. It was all looking good and even the following year right up until the the summer, when we went on holiday to Spain, we had great hopes for the future.
"But at the end of August 2012, Pamela started experiencing the same problem with her eye. This was a terrible blow and we tried to tell ourselves that it was just another cyst which she could have drained and all would be fine.
"I tried to be strong for both Pamela and for Adam but I didn't want to think about the possibilities - she was more realistic and said that because she had survived it once, she wasn't likely to again. I think she just knew she wasn't going to make it."
Pamela went back for her third brain surgery in two years and while it apparently went well, she went into a coma shortly afterwards and died 10 weeks later.
"A while after the surgery, Pamela began to go downhill and I got a call from the hospital one day when I was at work saying that she hadn't woken up that day and I knew then that she wasn't going to recover," says Gary. "It was the start of November 2012 and although it was really painful, we had to keep going. We had Adam's second birthday party in the hospital with presents and cake and had Pamela's five days later with another cake - she wasn't awake for either of them and I knew in my heart she was dying but I didn't want to acknowledge it.
"Pamela passed away on November 27 2012. None of us could believe it had happened even though we had been preparing for it for such a long time. Doctors told us that 99pc of people don't last as long as she did after the first surgery so if it is at all possible, we had prepared ourselves subconsciously for the fact that she wouldn't make it after the second operation.
"But knowing that didn't make it any easier and although it is almost two years now, it still feels unreal."
Although he will grow up without a mother, Adam will never forget her, if his father has anything to do with it.
"I have to keep going for Adam's sake because it is so important that he has some sort of a normal childhood," says Gary. "Of course I have down days and often wonder why it happened to us and why Pamela had to die so young - but I have to get up and get on with it.
"My son will grow up without his mother but he won't forget her. He knows everything about her, he says goodnight to her before he goes to bed and talks to her picture every day. And whenever we drive past the graveyard he blows her a kiss and gives her a wave - I'll make sure that he always remembers how special she was."
So many people are affected by cancer every day in Ireland and Gary feels it is important to raise awareness and funds to help research into the treatment of this terrible disease.
"I decided to take part in the ICS Colour Dash in Cork because it is only 5k and is a great public way to make people aware of the work the ICS do and the need they have for funds," he says.
"I want to raise some money for the charity and in doing so, hope that noone else has to go through what we have in the past two years."
• The ICS Colour Dash will take place on September 6 in Ballincollig Park, Co Cork.
• The 5km 'dash' will see participants of all ages running, walking or jogging. 'Dashers' will start the route wearing a white t-shirt and after each km a different colour - representing a different cancer - of powder paint will be thrown at them, creating a kaleidoscope of colour.
The Irish Cancer Society and Crown are calling on people to add some colour to their lives and sign up today to take part in the ICS Colour Dash. To register for your place 1850 60 60 60 or visit www.cancer.ie.
The Irish Cancer Society's Colour Dash is the only powder paint run giving 100pc of money raised to charity. Proudly sponsored by Crown Paints. Kindly supported by Spin 103.8.
Health & Living