Tuesday 12 November 2019

Molly McNally's family on her cancer battle: 'There's no point in saying why us?'

The McNally family
The McNally family
Molly McNally (5) celebrates Dublin's victory over Meath in the Leinster Final with platers Paul Flynn, Philly McMahon and Cian O'Sullivan
The winning ladies team with Molly and Gerard McNally.
Five year old Molly McNally who suffers with Neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer. Photo: Tony Gavin
Temple Street Patient Molly McNally (6) from Blanchardstown in the cockpit with Captain Vivian Cullen and 1st Officer Victoria Humphrey on board the CityJet Temple Street Childrens Hospital Santa Flight. Pic Steve Humphreys

It's 17 months since Dubs mascot Molly McNally was diagnosed with cancer. Her dad Gerry tells Fiona Dillon how his family's life has changed.

Molly McNally's parents Gerry and Emma don't do "doom and gloom" as they face her cancer battle head-on.

Molly McNally
Molly McNally

"There's no point in saying why was it us?" said Gerry, about finding out his daughter had a rare childhood cancer.

"You get on with it and you face it head on and you'll fight tooth and nail to beat it."

Gerry (47) and Emma (44) have approached six-year-old Molly's treatment step by step throughout the last 17 months.

At Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, he has met many families in the same boat and parents whose children have been diagnosed with cancer.

Bernard Brogan and Molly McNally
Bernard Brogan and Molly McNally

"But you know there are very, very good stories," said Gerry, pointing out that he has seen children coming through the treatment who are now doing great.

The Balbriggan family's normal life was changed for ever when the diagnosis was made.

Molly was born on 08/08/08, a date viewed as very lucky by the Chinese. "That date was the day they started the Olympics in Beijing," Gerry recalled.

It wasn't until she was five - the month after she started school - that there appeared to be something wrong.

Dublin players Eoghan O'Gara, with his daughter Ella, and Paul Flynn with five year old Molly McNally and her dad Gerry, from Balbriggan, after the game
Dublin players Eoghan O'Gara, with his daughter Ella, and Paul Flynn with five year old Molly McNally and her dad Gerry, from Balbriggan, after the game

"She was going into school one morning and she was kind of limping and I asked her if she was okay, and she said she was," said Gerry. "I asked her if there was something in her shoe and she said there wasn't.

"She came home from school and we were in the sitting room and I noticed her getting up from the couch and she kind of winced a bit. We asked her if she was okay and she said she had a pain in her tummy.

"We just knew something wasn't right."

Molly's concerned parents took her to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda to get checked out.

Molly McNally and her cousin Katie O'Connor
Molly McNally and her cousin Katie O'Connor

A series of investigations including blood tests, an X-ray, an ultrasound and a CT scan were carried out at the hospital, and doctors initially thought there might be a link to a prior bout of tonsillitis.

But later that day, Gerry and Emma learned their daughter had cancer.

"Molly had a tumour in her adrenal gland above her right kidney," said Gerry. "We heard the word tumour, and I was asking what was it? They said it was neuroblastoma.

"It was just complete devastation. Emma broke down. I was almost physically ill."

The next day, they went by ambulance to Our Lady's in Crumlin.

The winning ladies team with Molly and Gerard McNally.
The winning ladies team with Molly and Gerard McNally.

It was there that they learned there are different stages of neuroblastoma and Molly had Stage 4, which was the rare one.

"We were told she had bone marrow cancer and her skeleton was covered in neuroblastoma hotspots, basically from her feet to her skull," said Gerry.

Since then, Molly has been an inspiration for the family in the uncomplaining way she has gone through her treatment.

"You have to get over the shock of it, get over what happened," added her dad.

"You don't have time to dwell on it. From the start, myself and Emma sat down and the first thing we decided on - because Molly is very quick to pick up on things - was we weren't going to cry in front of her because it could make her afraid.

"We explained to her that there were bold cells in her tummy and it was called cancer and little things like that. We said we would be coming in and out of hospital for a while but we were going to get better.

The McNally family
The McNally family

"She understood it from a young age. She went with it. She doesn't give out about having to go to hospital."

Molly's battle has been well documented by the Herald. She has shown great courage throughout her treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and a recent bone marrow transplant.

Gerry said they explained everything in detail to Molly's siblings Jill (11) and James (10) (he also has a 27-year-old daughter, Stephanie).

Thankfully, the treatment has proved successful.

"She is in good form, and her energy levels are good," said Gerry. "The only downside is she can't go out yet to play, she can't go the cinema or shopping centres.

"The first week of May we'll come to the end of that type of isolation period."

Molly McNally.
Molly McNally.

Next up for Molly is a course of radiotherapy, which will begin this month and last four weeks.

Vital scans are coming up after radiotherapy, and Molly will then need immunotherapy.

This will see her receiving medication over a week in hospital and she will also have to take medication at home. That will last six months.

"It's using medication and your own immune system to wipe out the neuroblastoma cells," said Gerry.

If all goes to plan, Molly's treatment protocol could be finished by November and the goal of remission will have been achieved.

"That treatment protocol that we're doing in Crumlin is the exact same as the treatment they're doing in America. It's the best protocol you can get. It's second to none," said Gerry.

He added that he could not speak highly enough of Crumlin or Our Lady of Lourdes for their care.

He also said that the fact the Dublin men and women's GAA teams took Molly's battle to their hearts has been instrumental in raising awareness of the illness.

After her treatment finishes in Crumlin, they will look at a trial that has been going on in the US, being headed up by a doctor in Michigan.

"It's a trial that's designed to give yourself a higher percentage of stopping this thing from coming back," said Gerry. "We'll take each step at a time."

To contribute to the Molly McNally Trust, text MOLLY to 57802. Texts cost €2


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