Sunday 16 December 2018

'Marie said to me 'you are going to rear those girls now'. I told her not to say that' - What it feels like to lose your wife

When Paul Gallagher's wife died from breast cancer in 2007, he had to raise their three daughters on his own. Now, at 59, he's cycling the length of the country to raise money for research into finding a cure

Paul Gallagher with his daughters (l-r) Sophie (22), Amy (29), and Kate (26) at Kilmacud Crokes GAA Club, Stillorgan. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Paul Gallagher with his daughters (l-r) Sophie (22), Amy (29), and Kate (26) at Kilmacud Crokes GAA Club, Stillorgan. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Marie and I were away in Spain for New Year's Eve in 2002 with our daughters Amy (now 29), Kate (26) and Sophie (22). We were getting ready to go out for a party with friends - there were five families altogether - when Marie felt lumps in her breast after a shower.

I said there's nothing we can do now but I rang our local doctor and he said to come in to see him when we got home. Towards the end of January we were called in to see Prof Arnold Hill, a consultant at St Vincent's.

I'll never forget it. The lights were low and I just felt 'this isn't good news'. He explained the situation and that Marie needed to have a mastectomy. I remember her sitting there. She had a fur collar on her coat and beautiful blonde hair. There was silence. Marie asked straight away, "when can you do the operation?" She said: "Get this done straight away - I'm not waiting."

I remember going into the hospital with the kids and saying to them by the time the daffodils come out, Mammy will be better. The operation was long and she had breast reconstruction on the same day.

But it came back and it spread - eventually going into her bones. I remember the consultant giving me guidance to do what she wanted. Marie was a very independent woman. It was very hard on everyone to see her demise.

Before all this, life had been hectic. I run a printing company and I was totally immersed in the business. Marie was involved in lots of different things and she had a huge circle of friends. Her friends were magnificent through it all.

Paul with Wendy
Paul with Wendy

I remember coming home from work one evening and there were a couple of women I didn't know having coffee, there was another woman up in the bedroom. These were women from all over the country who were travelling to Dublin for chemotherapy. She used to open up the house to give them respite before they made the journey home. I remember one evening there were 15 women in the house.

It was then we threw ourselves into fundraising for Breast Cancer Ireland (BCI) and Marie herself raised a lot of money.

She got four years from the diagnosis. She died in October 2007. She was 44. Marie said to me "you are going to rear those girls now". I told her not to say that.

I remember saying to Amy that it would be fair to say your mother is in the last month of her life. Amy had just done her Leaving Cert, Kate had done the Junior Cert and Sophie was in primary school.

Afterwards I had to get used to doing all the shopping and it was hard for the girls coming home to an empty house. I got some help over the years. I got a lady in to help me do dinners for the girls two days a week - other than that I had to get stuck in. I had some fantastic friends of Marie's help with the girls too.

It was horrible. Our house used to be full of activity. The girls and their friends would study in our conservatory. It was always a busy house with women coming and going. When Marie died, all that stopped.

I still had to put in massive hours at work - it was right in the middle of the recession. It was tough to run the business and keep it going.

When Marie died I was 18 stone 12. I had ballooned in weight and I said I needed to get fit as I'd three girls to rear. I couldn't fall apart - I knew a lot of people were depending on me - especially the kids. I lost five stone after she died.

I said to myself 'look after the kids and get yourself right'. There were four of us who started cycling. The year Marie died we did a cycling challenge to Wales and climbed a mountain in Snowdonia. It started with four of us. There's upwards of 100 people from Kilmacud Crokes GAA Club cycling for Breast Cancer Ireland now.

Our plan was to cycle from Malin Head in Donegal to Mizen Head in Co Cork over the bank holiday weekend to raise funds for BCI. We were on the road for four full days cycling.

It would be magical if we could raise ¤200,000. That would be a magical figure to hand over to BCI.

Four years ago I met someone new, Wendy O'Hora - she's a family friend and the girls knew her before I knew her. She's into the cycling now too. At the end of the tunnel I found a bit of light.

Amy's working for me now - she's the MD of my company Sattal Print and Promotional Solutions Limited. She studied law at DCU. Kate's a qualified financial advisor and Sophie's in college studying business at DCU and she's also a qualified make-up artist and beautician.

If anyone finds themselves in a similar situation I'd say never be afraid to talk to people about your problems. There's loads of good people out there to listen to you. If any person needed my advice I'd always be willing to lend an ear.

I still cry on my own for no reason - the tears just come out of me. I lost a close friend to brain cancer recently - he was a close friend of Marie's too - and the other day I just burst out crying.

Marie used to have a saying 'get over yourself'. She was a no-nonsense person and she got on with life. She would have wanted me to mind the girls and that's what I'm trying to do. She would say to me 'you look after those girls'. That's what has stuck with me.

To donate €4 to Breast Cancer Ireland, text CURE to 50300. For more information, see breastcancerireland.com.

Irish Independent

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