As she sits at home in Ardcavan, blanket in lap with a cup of tea watching television, you'd never imagine the journey that 62-year-old Mary Thompson has been on.
Just a few short weeks ago, a priest had given her the last rights and her family had begun the devastating task of planning her funeral. However, nobody had banked on Mary's fighting spirit - something which has now gained her the affectionate nickname 'Mary Balboa'.
It all started for Mary back in November of last year. One evening while making dinner for the family, out of nowhere she roared out in pain, threw her hands in the air and collapsed on the floor. Initially, her family feared she had suffered a stroke, but this was just the beginning.
'That moment our whole lives changed,' daughter Anna said. 'A dozen or more visits to the hospital by ambulance later and Mam was diagnosed with epilepsy. The seizures became a regular occurrence and I'd say she must've had about 20 of them before Christmas. We, as a family, felt there was much more to Mam's deterioration. It started to affect her short term memory and her eyesight and we just knew something wasn't right.'
Things eventually came to a head when Mary's family - husband Seamus and children Anna and Bryan - insisted that she get an MRI. Sadly, it was to show a much bigger problem - a tumour on her brain.
'Our hearts were shattered when they told us they found a mass on the front of Mam's brain. Heartache, pain, fear, anger, sadness, you name it ran through us all. Two weeks later, Mam went for a biopsy in Beaumont Hospital and on January 26 we got the worst news possible. Mam had grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforma - non-curable but treatable brain cancer.'
What followed was intensive treatment. Mary endured six weeks of chemo and radiotherapy at St Luke's Hospital, during which time she couldn't even get home due to concerns over her seizures. In the midst of all this, the hospital entered lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic struck with a vengeance.
Having undergone her treatment, Mary was brought home, but it wasn't long before the phone rang with more bad news.
'We were told that there had been a confirmed case of Covid-19 on the ward where Mam was,' Anna said. 'Her own doctor, Anna Marie O'Brien in Wexford, was amazing and was on the phone to us every day. She deteriorated quickly though and we ended up having to call an ambulance to bring her to Wexford General a couple of days later.'
'We were kind of shell-shocked. We didn't know if we had just seen Mam for the last time or if we had just said goodbye.'
At Wexford General, things got worse before they got better. With her family unable to see her, Mary dis-improved and updates from the hospital told Seamus, Anna and Bryan to prepare for the worst.
'We were getting regular updates, but two weeks in we were told that she had deteriorated rapidly,' Anna explained. 'They said that they had tried everything and she wasn't responding and that they had her on morphine and oxygen to keep her comfortable.'
At this point the family were asked to go in and say their final goodbyes.
'It was horrible,' Anna said. 'We only got a half an hour. We had to get all gowned up and we weren't allowed to touch anything. We just held her hand and I remember telling her "go and say hello to your Mam and Dad". She kind of shook her head like she didn't know what I was talking about.'
The heartbroken family left Mary there, presuming it was the last time they'd see her, and set about planning her funeral service. As if this wasn't enough, Mary's husband Seamus also tested positive for Covid-19 at this stage and was forced to self-isolate at home.
'At one point Dad was very sick too,' Anna says. 'He was in isolation in his bedroom, but his breathing got really bad. We thought we'd have to call an ambulance for him too and I'd have both parents in hospital with Covid-19 and not be able to see either of them.'
In the meantime, Mary rallied slightly and the family were invited to call in and see her again.
'She had a bit more energy and she was asking for Dad,' Anna recalls. 'She told us to look after each other and love each other and she wanted to speak to her brothers and sisters to say goodbye. After this visit, we were pretty much told that Mam was going to die. We went home and it was just so strange. We were waiting on the phone to ring and every time it did, your heart sank.'
However, Mary was not throwing in the towel just yet.
'I don't know whether it was stubbornness or what, but she fought it off,' Anna laughs. 'Slowly her energy levels improved and she started eating again and doing a little bit of physio to get her strength back.'
With Seamus recovered from the virus, he was delighted to welcome his wife back home and family and friends lined the laneway as, having miraculously defied all of the odds, Mary arrived back home by ambulance.
'She's still very weak and tired, but every day she gets a little bit stronger,' Anna said. 'It really is a miracle. She wouldn't be able to talk on the phone for long or anything because of her breathing, but she's sitting drinking a cup of tea and watching telly here. I got engaged at Christmas, so we're talking about the wedding in two years and she's ready to fight and is looking forward to it.'
While Mary's cancer remains incurable, it is treatable and having already proven her appetite for a fight, she and her family are feeling optimistic again for the first time in a long time.
'I don't know how, but she's still here,' Anna says. 'We are so blessed and thankful. Mam received such wonderful care from her own doctor Anna Marie O'Brien, Beaumont, St Luke's and all the staff at Wexford General, particularly St Brigid's Ward, and even everyone at Fortune's Chemists in town are so good to her. They all went above and beyond and we're extremely grateful.'
Mary is providing a great source of inspiration and hope in what are difficult times for many. With charities set to struggle as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the Thompson family are hoping to do their bit to help in some way and are urging people to donate what they can to the virtual Relay for Life Wexford. Any donations large or small will be gratefully received at www.relayforlifewexford.com/fundraisers/annathompson.
In the meantime, Mary 'Balboa' is resting up and getting ready for her next big battle in the loving care of her grateful and proud family.