Friday 28 November 2014

Donal Walsh: 'I wanted to live, to play for Munster, to travel the whole world'

Shortly before he died, 16-year-old Donal Walsh wrote this moving account of his battle with cancer and how he won his life back in the face of a terminal illness

Published 14/04/2013 | 05:00

EVERY day people say I'm brave, that I'm courageous and I hate that. I'm just doing what I have to do to survive, to live another day.

I had a friend, Stuart Mangan, he said he wasn't brave because he didn't have a choice. He didn't have a choice to be paralysed but he chose to live every day of his life with a smile on his face and even though he knew he didn't have long to live, he spent the time he had designing technology for people who would end up like him. That to me is brave and inspirational.

The first time they told me, I was at home, I was on the phone to my friend. It was September 11, 2008, my mom came in, she didn't have to say anything, I knew straight away what had happened. The test results were bad and the tumour was malignant. I hung up the phone without saying anything and I felt like throwing it at the wall. But to be honest, I didn't know what it meant. I was 12, and all I cared about was playing sport. I knew it was bad but I didn't understand the severity of it. I had cancer, a tumour that had grown on my right femur just above my knee and little did I know it would destroy parts of my life that I had never planned on letting go of.

The first step was chemo. I thought at the time it would be one step but it turned out to be 26 chemo sessions throughout the year. That week we were overloaded with information about my treatment, my outcome and me. My outcome looked good but it wouldn't be easy. In fact, they said it's one of the hardest things for an adult to overcome and near impossible for a child. At the time, I was angry, upset and felt like it was impossible. But I had to remember, they had said "near impossible".

The first chemotherapy started on September 18, 2008. Before that, I was in so much pain, I had gone weeks with only hours of sleep and countless different medications but nothing would stop it. In a way, I'm glad the painkillers didn't work. If they had, I wouldn't have said anything, the pain would have disappeared and the cancer spread, and I might not have had the same outcome that I was given. Even to this day, I refuse painkillers, not because I'm stupid but because I'm afraid. I'm afraid if I cover it up that it could be serious and by the time I realise it, it might be too late.

Amazingly, when they started chemo, the pain stopped. A good sign it was working.

Doxorubicin, cisplatin and methotrexate were my chemotherapies. They were my best friends and my worst enemies. They would save my life and nearly kill me but I was doing it. I wanted to live, to play for Munster, to travel the world, to raise children and die when I'm 100, not 12.

I had a lot of bad days over the next few weeks. I was going downhill fast and everyone knew it. Everyone except me. I couldn't see what was happening to me, I would walk into the hospital for my chemo, take my bed next to a baby, I'd see two adults asleep on the floor. I'd take my vomiting bowl and pee jar for the week. Then I'd sleep. I shut it out. I didn't want to be like the three-year-olds who would walk around with smiles and buckets of toys. I wanted to be Donal. But when you walk in there, you lose everything; your pride, your dignity and once they start the chemo, you lose your body. In a way, the smaller children have an easier path. They won't remember this. But it's harder for their parents because they have to watch this happen to their children.

Normality changes too. I had trouble struggling to figure out what it was for me. I'd wake up and get my injection, I'd get sick a couple of times a day, I'd wander around the house, waiting for school to finish and maybe a few friends would come over. They didn't treat me the same. I was different, I was that person you stop your kids from staring at. I was sick.

I had one of the worst days of my life in early November. My uncle took me out for a drive. I wasn't eating again. I didn't eat after chemo. I couldn't, I didn't have an appetite at all and anything I did eat wouldn't be long in my stomach before it was in the vomiting bowl. When we came home, I was told to sit down. They told me that I would need surgery and it was more complicated than they thought. It was too close to my knee for bone salvage surgery so they would need to remove half my femur, all my knee and a small part of my tibia and replace it with prosthetics. I knew what this meant: sport was gone. My dream, the only thing I wanted, was gone. I was devastated. I couldn't talk to anyone for days.

There were worse days. On the day of my last chemo , my parents went for lunch and I was alone. I was trying to sleep but there was a baby next to me who was crying. Then he stopped, I heard a chair move suddenly and his mother began screaming. The crash alarm went off and the crash cart was brought in. At this stage his mother was shouting at him. The nurses were shouting at each other. I was praying. He didn't make it. My parents weren't allowed in the room for an hour. I was scared and I don't know why, but I was angry. That day was one of the worst days of my life. To witness a child die, and his parents break down. I don't like to talk about it because I still get scared and angry thinking about it.

My operation in January was the toughest thing I have ever had to do. I was weak. I lost 23kg and I was still sick. I didn't realise how tough it was going to be until I woke up. It was nine-and-a-half hours long. I woke up with two tubes on my leg, an epidural, six cannulas and a catheter. After two nights in intensive care, I was moved to the children's ward. After four days of just lying down, I eventually ate something. Then the head nurse came in early and spoke with my mom. They thought I was asleep. She said she was going to remove the tubes and the less I knew, the better. I wish I was asleep. She asked could she look at my back, where the epidural was. I told her I knew what was happening. She pulled it out quickly, I felt it slither out and then a sharp pain pierced my spine. I screamed. I begged her to go slow for the drainage tubes. But she said it would be easier if it was quick. One went and I felt it tear out. Straight away she took the second one and it felt as bad the first one. There was blood on the curtains from the speed they came out at.

"Now for the catheter." I was petrified at this stage. She began to disconnect it and then I felt a massive balloon pop in my bladder. And then I asked how would the balloon come out. "Like this," she said and I could see her dragging it as it burned me.

"That wasn't too bad, was it?" she attempted to explain. She had dealt with patients like me for years and knew about the pain we had to suffer and she was going to make sure I went through it for good reasons, not bad.

The pain I felt that day was the worst I ever encountered and it wasn't over. I had three weeks of rehabilitation left because I had to learn how to walk again. And it started that day.

My physiotherapist came around at 11am and I sat out for the first time. She said, "We might get you down to the gym tomorrow". I said, "Tomorrow? Can we not start today?" She was shocked but happy. I was in the gym by 3pm.

In the gym there were two bars that are waist-high and about 10 metres. I looked at them and asked, "Will I be doing them?"

She said, "Yeah, about three times today."

I said to myself I was doing them six times. I managed five and I was disappointed. The next day I did them eight times. While I was in the gym, the other physiotherapists would tell patients how I had four times more metal in my leg than anyone else in the hospital, that I didn't move for four days and I'm three weeks ahead of where I should be for walking.

When I was in there, all I cared about was getting out, if that meant going through all that pain, I would do it. I still do. If I want something, I go get it. I don't wait around for something to happen. I make it happen.

They said I'd be off crutches in six months. I went for a six-week check up and gave my crutches back.

I still had six months of chemo. Along with removing my knee, it would mean that the cancer wouldn't come back, and I was willing to do that. But the chemo was hitting me hard. I might faint instead of sleep and I was losing weight fast. On March 10, I reached my lowest weight, weighing only four-and-a-half stone. I hadn't eaten for 28 days. My mom brought me to Kerry General hospital. From there they brought me to Crumlin. I was given a nasogastric tube and I was fed through that. It was a tube that went through my nose and ran all the way down to my stomach. I had failed myself and I was devastated.

In the end, it turned out that the tube was a good thing. It gave me energy and I even began to eat a little again.

On June 1, 2009, I walked out of St John's Ward a happy man. I was finished my last methotrexate, my last chemo and I promised I would never return as a patient.

Over the next few years I collected over €10,000 for the ward. They looked after me and I promised myself that I was going to do everything I could to look after them. They were looking to renovate the ward for the first time since the Seventies so I had to help.

I had to go for check-ups every four months and on February 15, 2012, I went up for one with my dad. We went for a chest X-ray and took it up to my doctor. That was normal. Until he demanded that the isotope unit open so I could have a CT scan of my chest. I took no notice. I guess I shut it out. We waited for him in a room with yellow paint on the walls. There was a bin next to me and tissues on the table. He came in and told us I had a tumour in my lung. It was back. My heart sank. My world fell apart again. I was angry. This was too much. I stood up and kicked the bin. I wanted to run. I fell to my knees in tears. I couldn't handle it. He said I would be going for surgery the week after, on February 25. I wasn't happy to be doing this all again. They weren't able to tell if I would need chemo until after the surgery, I wasn't happy with that.

I spent the week with my friends. It's hard to call some of them 'friends', when they spend every day with you, they become family.

I broke down the morning of my operation. I didn't want to do it because it meant I would be going back to that life, the life I swore I left behind, the life I was promised I wouldn't see again. They tried to sedate me but I refused because taking that medicine would be like accepting it was real and I couldn't do that. Eventually I was sedated and that was it. The next thing I remember was waking up in intensive care with my mom next to me. She was crying.

"Did everything go OK?" I asked.

She wiped her eyes. "Yeah, everything's OK," she said unconvincingly.

"Why are you...?"

Then it hit me, "I need chemo, don't I?"

She began to cry again. "Yes," she said.

I didn't know what to do. My mom never cries in front of me. I knew there was more. I wanted to hold her but I couldn't move. I have to show her I'm OK.

"I'm OK, mom. I'll be fine. Don't cry. I can do it again," I lied.

The next day I realised I was back to where I was three years ago. In intensive care with an epidural, two drainage tubes in my lung, countless cannulas, a catheter and a pain tube in my throat. I was going to march through this. I was getting out of here and going home before the chemo. That's all I wanted. I met with my surgeon that day. It turned out the tumour was three times the size they thought it was. It was 12cm. They had to remove half my lung with it.

It is unreal the support I am getting. I suppose the first time everyone was like me, new to it all. But this time they know what I look like and the pain I'm going through. I don't take it seriously when I'm at home because if I do, my friends will and I don't want them to worry about me. Cancer has already ruined my life so I'm not going to let it do anything to my friends. So at home I'm Donal, but in hospital I'm sick and that's the way it's going to stay.

The rehabilitation would be slower this time. They took out most of my tubes by Tuesday. The rest were simple. I was still left with one drainage tube for the next few days. But I got started on the rehab.

This time she said we were going to walk two doors down the corridor, a space of 10 metres. It wasn't long enough, half the corridor, 30 metres would do me. I was leaving Friday and to do that the doctors had to see I was OK. I left Friday.

I had 10 days at home and I had to decide if I was going to do the chemo or not. If I did, I was told it would be very tough and they don't know how long it will go on for. If I didn't, [the cancer] would come back and I might not survive. For those 10 days, I didn't know if I wanted to be Donal. I wanted to be something more. I wanted to leave Donal behind with a bang. I was told to do some crazy things but in the end I chose to be Donal because when I made up my mind, either way, I was going to have to leave him behind and I wanted to appreciate everything he had as a normal teenager. I've met some people who have no idea how lucky their lives are. And I wasn't going to finish without appreciating what I had.

I spent those 10 days with my friends and family. On the Saturday before my chemo, I went to Cork with my best friend and his brother. I nearly had another breakdown on the train. They saved me. Straight away I was on the phone to another good friend in Limerick and he helped me make up my mind about the chemo and I owe it all to those three guys. They're all like brothers to me now.

I walked back into that ward with a sick feeling inside me, knowing what I was walking into. The ward hadn't changed at all. The walls were the same, the curtains were the same, the airtight windows were the same and, of course, the same empty promises given to countless dying children by countless gentlemen in suits. It really does make me ashamed of my government when they can get wages in the hundreds of thousands annually, but when one of the most important children's wards in Ireland, for some of the sickest kids in Ireland, has to rely on charitable donations to buy a bucket of paint and a brush. That is one of the sickest things I have ever come across in my short lifetime here.

I eventually came to terms with it again. I was given two new saviours, etoposide and ifosfamide,

my new best friends and my new worst enemies. Four months in there is what I was told at the start, so four months is what I was aiming for. The first treatment was a week long inside in the ward. It was also Cheltenham race week. All the information we had gotten four years ago was being thrown back at us, it was like nothing had changed but a few inches in height. My Hickman was put back in the same place, I was put into the same beds next to the same machines and next to very similar families.

The week seemed to be a short one even though it was very tough.I was using Cheltenham as an excuse to get up every morning and it gave me a distraction while my body was being persecuted by the two chemos again. My mom and I left Crumlin at the end of that week on St Patrick's day and we were getting home no matter what parade got in our way!

I had three weeks at home to recover before my next bout of chemo. I was back to the old routine with my injection every morning and the vomiting bowl following me round the house. But now I had to put on a show because my friends couldn't see the sick Donal. They obviously knew, along with half the town, that my cancer was back and they knew that I was going to be sick after my treatments but they're still only teenagers. I would make sure that I was able for their visits and that I could do most of the things they did but sometimes I'd have to use an excuse like I was out of breath because of my lung or my knee was sore. But we had some good laughs about the cancer as well, they'd always have a joke or two to crack and I even let them shave my hair off one night which was a funny experience.

I went back up for another week of chemo. It hurt every time I had to leave home and such a beautiful part of the world to be locked up in that cage but it had to be done. While I was there, my mom noticed that I was getting a lot of headaches and I was losing memory so immediately they had me do a brain scan which came back clear. That meant that it must have been one of the chemos. So they stopped the ifosfamide for what was left in that week and I was home a day early as a result of it.

The support I was getting from the town of Tralee was unreal, the amount of people volunteering to fundraise for the ward. As a result €50,000 was raised for Crumlin and Make a Wish.

It was my third week for chemo. They told me they had changed the medications like the anti-sickness so I shouldn't feel any more of the headaches yet after two days of chemo, I still struggled to remember who my mom was. Something clicked with my mom that she had seen this before in her mother, my gran, where she had steroid psychosis. This meant as a result of too much steroids we couldn't remember family and who we were. The doctors adjusted this medicine and all my memory came back.

During my three-week breaks, I would have spent most of the time recovering while my friends were at school. I had one friend who came around every day after school and made me smile. That was John. He visited me in hospital and made me laugh even though it hurt like hell. We ended up like brothers throughout it all. Then there's Cormac, Hugh and James, my three best friends from school, they supported me through everything and visited me as much as they could while studying for their exams. I was also trying to study for my Junior Cert as best as I could but I could only make it into school for one week while I was at home. This made it difficult at times but I had huge support from my school and they helped me to do as much work as I could at home.

It soon began to dawn on me I was coming up to my last chemo session before they decided if I was finished with it or not, the plan was for me to finish the fourth chemo and go home to recover before they would do a scan which would give me all the results. I went for my last chemo and finished my last ifosfamide and etoposide before the scan. The chemos hadn't worn me out as physically this time as they did the first time, I had only lost a stone-and-a-half in weight and my appetite wasn't as badly affected. While I was recovering, I began to feel awful negative. With the scan approaching, all I could think about was how the chemos

didn't affect my body as badly as they should have like the first time. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I didn't get sick enough to kill off all the good cells and the bad cells, but the doctors reassured me that because they were two different chemotherapy combinations, that there would be two different results and I had to remain positive for the scan the following week.

The scan was booked for Friday June 15, 2012, my 16th birthday. I drove up to Dublin with my mom and sister. After the scan, we came home for the weekend and waited for the results. On the Monday, the Junior Cert exams, which I sat at home, had finished so I went to James's house with Cormac and Hugh where we were going to watch Ireland in Euro 2012. My phone rang, it was my mom. She said, "The results are back from the scan and it was all-clear, you don't need any more chemo." I couldn't believe it, that all I had thought over the last few weeks and all I had gone through over the past few months was over. I spent the summer travelling between Bantry and Tralee. I spent the time in Bantry with my cycling coach James Cleary and the rest of the time in Tralee working my ass off in the gym and on the bike. I even changed my diet to help me build my strength and fitness levels.

I returned to school in September and had gotten into a daily routine of an early start at seven to get my food ready for the day, go to school, go straight to the gym or go for a cycle which I had reached up to 60km at the time, come and study and then some weeknights coach youth rugby. My life seemed to be perfect. I had everything I ever wanted and it couldn't have gone any better.

One day in September, I went on a cycle route of 55km and on the way back, coming through a small village, I was hit by a car. I was hit on the left and landed on that side as I had flipped so many times in the air. I couldn't move and by the time someone had gotten to me they stopped me from moving in case I made any injuries worse. The ambulance and gardai arrived and I was brought to Kerry General Hospital. All I was thinking was the worst but thankfully it never came to that. A few broken ribs and bad internal bruising on my shoulder and leg but I walked out of there the following evening.

This crash had me thinking, I didn't realise how much I loved training. It was what made me happy in my life because it made me feel alive. Those pains and aches from training in the gym and all those cuts and bruises from the bike, they were all signs that I was alive and healthy and I loved it because it showed people how far I'd come. From being four-and-a-half stone and learning how to walk again, to having half my lung removed and having the scare of losing my memory, to being able to go to the gym every day, cycle 60km and love every second of it was what kept me going. And what made it even better was no one expected it. Any one who saw me in hospital during those times couldn't believe how far I'd come. It was like a miracle.

For the few weeks after the crash, I was plagued by minor injuries and setbacks in the gym, in particular, my right shoulder which was the opposite one to which the crash affected. So about a month after the crash, my mom took me to A&E one morning. The doctor that saw me was the same doctor that treated me for the crash. They X-rayed my shoulder and put it down to a torn muscle from over-exercising.

So life went back to normal, school with Cormac, James, and Hugh, and John every other spare second I had. I had the best friends anyone could ask for and I knew it but had no way to show it but I tried to be as best a friend as I could be for them.

The pain wasn't improving much over the weeks I was resting it. With the check-up in Crumlin approaching, my mind wasn't at ease anymore. Of course, I would think the worst and that I might end up back in the ward, but then again the other fully qualified doctor had said it was a torn muscle.

My check-up was scheduled for November 19 but because €50,000 was raised in my name for Crumlin and the ward, I was invited up for a charitable launch in October so I had my check-up changed to match them both on October 16. So me and my dad set off. We arrived early at 9am so we could be first in and first out hopefully. We took our chairs in the waiting room and I was weighed and had my blood pressure taken. Soon after we were called into Dr Capra's office. My dad and him had their usual slagging match and then he started his routine exam. It seemed to all be going fine until I brought up my shoulder. I explained to him everything from the crash and he still wasn't happy. He rang down to the CT department but they were closed for repairs. He then ordered that it be opened for my shoulder scan. That's when I began to worry. I did the scan but the results wouldn't be for an hour or two, perfect for us because it fitted the time of the charity launch. We went over, and it was a weird experience because the room was full of businessmen giving speeches but all I heard was white noise, nothing. I couldn't even concentrate on worrying, just waiting for the phone call to bring us back for the results. The call came.

I sat back into the waiting room with my dad. Dr Capra called our names from the door of the waiting room and when I walked over, he said, "We've been on this road too many times, eh?"

That was it. My heart sank. I didn't know whether to follow them to his office or run out the front door.

"It's bad news, isn't it?" I asked.

"I'm afraid so," he confirmed.

I didn't break down this time, I shed a tear and asked what the prognosis was now. He said he couldn't confirm a plan of treatment yet but more than likely, it would involve some form of surgery and chemo treatments but that it was unlikely it would work because it had failed twice before. And if it did work, it wouldn't stay away.

"So if it doesn't kill me this time, it will the next?" I asked bluntly.

"Well, the cancer has become immune to the treatments, so eventually it will, yes," he answered.

That's when I burst into tears, that's when I realised I was hanging from a building, relying on my little finger. I couldn't get over it, I was so healthy, I had changed everything to avoid this, to avoid cancer but it still caught me. That trip home was the most heartbreaking, telling my mom and my sister while we were all in tears, and other people I loved like John and the lads that the cancer had caught me and it looked like it was going to kill me.

We arrived home four hours later to a house full of support, everyone had come out. That week was a blur to me. After letting the news out that the cancer was back, the amount of support that I got was crazy, I didn't need any of that chin-up bullshit, because I had all the positivity and strength and support I needed to get through this 10 times over but it still felt like a mountain I couldn't climb, nonetheless God had given me hiking boots so I might as well start climbing.

We were called up for scans the following Thursday. Two of my friends, John and Cassie, came with me and my mom, they were a distraction for most of the day until I had to meet my doctor and he bluntly gave us the grim news again. On the way home, I stopped in Portlaoise to meet with a prayer minister, John Delaney. He has been a very strong part of my faith and on that night we prayed together. I thought to myself that if this was what God wants me to do, if he wants me to fight cancer, if he wants me to be a symbol to other people, or if he just wants me to die then I guess I'll strap up my hiking boots and get to the top of this mountain.

Two days later, my dad, John and I were sent to Dublin for a Pet scan. There was a four-day wait before any results came back. I was upstairs when the call came. I walked in on my mom on the phone. My uncle Brian tried to distract me by bringing me out of the room but I knew straight away what it was and I wasn't leaving the room until the phone call was over. My mom hung up in tears and started to explain that there were six tumours, all growing aggressively and no treatment options available.

I didn't know what to do. I went down to my friend Vicky's house and Cassie was there too, while my mom told my sister. They were heartbroken but for me, it still hadn't hit me. I went back home and rang John. We spent a good while on the phone but it didn't seem real to us. James, Hugh and Cormac found it so hard to believe because I was so fit at the time.

So we thought about what to do next, it wasn't the logical thing but all we could think of was a party with all my best friends and then to hit the town afterwards.

After that week, it was midterm and everyone had a few days to let it sink in. I didn't have much trouble letting it sink in because I still believed that if this is what God wants me to do, then this is what I will do.

At the start of midterm, I asked my parents was there any chance I could go on a break away with my friends somewhere, and Halloween night, James, John, Cormac, Hugh, my cousin Eoin, uncle Brian, dad and myself loaded ourselves on to a minibus and set off for a week in London, thanks to my uncles.

Over the next few weeks at home, a lot of things changed. I dropped out of school to have more time for my life. I was given helicopter rides and a chance to drive a Ferrari which I took up with no hesitation.

As a family, we went to Lourdes. While I was there, I didn't experience much healing but I went for confession and met a South African priest. I asked him why God could give such an illness to young infants who have not had a life. His reply gave me great comfort: we are not in this life for answers, this life is for lessons and questions, it isn't until heaven that we receive answers.

I met for the first time with my palliative doctor and her team, after that it kind of hit me that these were the people who were going to help me die. It was like they were fluffing my pillows for a good night's sleep and it sunk in that there was going to be an end soon. That still didn't mean I was going anywhere without a fight. I had trips to Cork for radiotherapy which would slow the cancer down but my doctors still warned my parents to have an early Christmas but because I knew this was going to be my last Christmas, I still wanted it to be special. Nonetheless Christmas remained December 25.

I wanted unique gifts for all the people I loved, signet rings for my four best friends and one that I would wear as well, unique pieces of jewellery for my sister and my mother and other special friends. I didn't ask for any gifts but somehow my mom managed to bring Santa Claus to the house on Christmas Eve while my friends and cousins were here. He gave a gift to everyone and we had a good laugh.

I got a lot of happiness out of Christmas, we had more house parties and my debs was soon after. I got to bring one of my best friends, Joanne, and went with James and his date for the night.

January came and with it so did more pain. This led to

more radiotherapy and palliative care treatment. They sent me to Marymount Hospice in Cork for 10 days while I was being put on methadone as a pain killer.

When I came home, it was like I had a new lease of life. My mom organised a weekend trip to Paris with my cousins Eoin, Clodagh, Rios, Riona and my sister Jema, my mom and uncles came too, we had a good laugh and made nice memories together. When I got home, I was out most weekends with my friends and I had the energy during the week for all the visitors, but I soon began to realise that time was slipping away.

Some days I would wake up and I could easily appreciate the beauty of the world that I was leaving behind, although it does make me upset that I will never get to experience the feeling of living that I had on the bike or in the gym, or that I will never get to see my sister walk up the aisle next to the love of her life, or that I will never get to travel the world and see places like New Zealand, Asia or America or that I won't get the chance to see my four best friends do as good in life as I know they will. But I have to remember that God is using me; whether He is using me as a symbol for people to appreciate life more or whether His first two mountains weren't high enough for me, all I know is that I am walking with Him even though it is along His path.

I would like to take this chance to thank the people who asked not to be named but who have made a difference to the past few months for me and my family, whether they are other family members, business men or complete strangers. Thank you.

 

'No matter how bad life gets, help is always there'

DONAL Walsh came to national prominence recently when a letter he wrote made a plea for an end to the suicide epidemic among young people. This is his letter:

A few months left, he said. There it was; I was given a timeline on the rest of my life. No choice, no say, no matter. It was given to me as easy as dinner.

I couldn't believe it, that all I had was 16 years here, and soon I began to pay attention to every detail that was going on in this town.

I realised that I was fighting for my life for the third time in four years and this time I have no hope. Yet still I hear of young people committing suicide and I'm sorry but it makes me feel nothing but anger.

I feel angry that these people choose to take their lives, to ruin their families and to leave behind a mess that no one can clean up.

Yet I am here with no choice, trying as best I can to prepare my family and friends for what's about to come and leave as little a mess as possible.

I know that most of these people could be going through financial despair and have other problems in life, but I am at the depths of despair and, believe me, there is a long way to go before you get to where I am.

For these people, no matter how bad life gets, there are no reasons bad enough to make them do this; if they slept on it or looked for help they could find a solution, and they need to think of the consequences of what they are about to do.

So please, as a 16-year-old who has no say in his death sentence, who has no choice in the pain he is about to cause and who would take any chance at even a few more months on this planet, appreciate what you have, know that there are always other options and help is always there.

 

I've grown fully in both body and mind by climbing God's mountains

I live in a part of the world that is surrounded by mountains. I can't turn my head without finding a bloody hill or mountain and I suppose those were God's plans for me. To have me grow up around mountains and grow climbing a few too. And that's exactly what I've done, I may have grown up in body around them but I've fully grown and matured in mind climbing his mountains.

He's had me fight cancer three times, face countless deaths and losses in my life, he's had my childhood dreams taken off me but at the end of the day, he's made me a man.

I am always called brave, heroic, kind, genuine, honourable and so many other kind compliments, but I have to try and explain to everyone why I seem to reject them. I have never fought for anyone but myself, therefore I cannot be brave or heroic, I've only been kind because my religion has taught me so.

What impact could I ever make on the world if I was fake or how could I ever be honourable if I was not honoured to be here.

I am me. There is no other way of putting it, little old Donal Walsh from Tralee, one body, one mind with a few other cobwebs and tales thrown in.

I've climbed God's mountains, faced many struggles for my life and dealt with so much loss. And as much as I'd love to go around to every fool on this planet and open their eyes to the mountains that surround them in life, I can't. But maybe if I shout from mine they'll pay attention.

If I start to accept these compliments, I'm afraid of what I'll become. Will I be braver than YE? Will I be kinder than YE? More genuine than YE? Or more honourable than YE? Better than YE? No. I can never accept that there is a YE. We are all the same, we are all given one body, one mind. The only difference for me is that I'm looking from the mountain.

* Donal Walsh (16) passed away peacefully at his family home in Blennerville, Co Kerry, on Sunday, surrounded by his family, his dad Fionnbar, his mother Elma and his sister Jemma.

Irish Independent

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