A YOUNG Irish woman who is undergoing life changing surgery in America will return home for the first time in more than two years after a final operation next month.
Mary Philbin (28) was diagnosed with a very rare malignant tumour in her throat in 2005. After battling the cancer, she was left unable to eat or breathe without difficulty.
Mary, from Galway, was forced to supplement her diet with baby food and nutritional drinks in order to survive.
As her condition worsened, and in a desperate bid to enhance her quality of life, the young woman travelled to North Carolina in 2012 for reconstructive throat surgery.
But to fund the surgery her family had to take out a loan to cover the costs.
They approached the HSE about providing a portion of funding for the trip but their plea was rejected as the Treatment Abroad Scheme does not cover surgeries outside the EU and Switzerland.
Now after a series of painful operations, Mary is facing her final surgery in the next month.
"The surgeries have all been successful, the last surgery in October improved my breathing and kept me eating and I can eat most things now. My energy levels, compared to when I came here, have improved a lot, I feel alive for the first time in years," she said.
However, despite her improving health, Mary has had to battle to raise the necessary funds for the surgeries. The ongoing operations and extended time in America have taken a devastating toll on her family's finances.
"Thank God I am nearly finished with the surgeries, its been a very long and stressful road. All I can say is, starting out on this journey in 2012, I could never have imagined all that lay ahead.
"The last few years have been unbelievably stressful, not just the surgeries and recovery worries but also the financial worry. It's been simply overwhelming. I wouldn't wish it on anyone," she said.
Yet despite the trials and tribulations of the last 10 years since the initial diagnosis, Mary is grateful.
"But with all that being said, every difficult step of the journey has been worth it, because I went from being unable to eat food and breathe comfortably to successfully coming through surgeries. My quality of life has improved, beyond measure," she added.
The young woman must now raise the necessary €35,000 for her final operation and to finally get her home.
"We are still fundraising to cover the cost of treatment, however there has been nothing happening for quite a long time. It's been very stressful and worrying and it leaves me very uneasy to say the least. Between everything, medical and living expenses and to get me home, there will be around €35,000 needed. I pray to God we will find it," she said.
"I do hope to return home as soon as I have recovered and feel strong enough for the return journey. After all this time I am very much looking forward to making it home to see my family and friends," she said.
Mary's mother Eileen was forced to return to Ireland in October after spending close to two years by her daughter's side during a series of different procedures and surgeries.
"Seeing my mother go through what she has done for me breaks my heart. She has given so much of herself over the almost 10 years since I got sick. The financial worries are doing anything but helping my recovery because it's been incredibly stressful and wearing," she added.
Anyone wishing to donate to Mary's fund can do so via www.maryphilbin.com or through the Mary Philbin Fund, Bank of Ireland account number: 18987405, sort code: 90-54-08.