I KNOCK on the door of Niamh Carty’s home in Ballincollig and her partner answers.
“I am the butler!” Michael Porter says as he greets me with a beaming smile.
Is he chief cook and bottle washer too?
“I certainly am!” he hits back.
“Since Niamh got sick, I do all the cooking. She gives me the orders like making sure I baste the roast beef with olive oil.”
Niamh, 35, has been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer but doesn’t do duvet days. Instead she sees the silver linings at the home she shares with Michael and her sons, Adam, aged seven, and Noah, 5, who is autistic.
“Noah is beginning to talk more now and he’s really coming out of his shell,” says Niamh, who is originally from Wexford.
The little boy shows me his vast collection of miniature cars and demonstrates their speed across the kitchen table.
“We are very close,” says Niamh. “The boys are my world. I really want to spoil them while I’m well enough and treat them to a trip away.”
To that end, Niamh is benefiting from a GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising enough money to send the family on a holiday to Killarney.
With the hefty medical costs of her treatment, she has not been able to treat her children.
Her original target of €1,500 in donations was soon surpassed by generous people, and now she’s hoping to raise €2,500 for the trip she is planning for June, when the boys get their holidays from school.
Niamh might not have endless energy, but the love is abundant around her. Small acts of happiness like a roast beef dinner or a chunky bar of chocolate set her up nicely.
“We don’t have much money for treats”, Niamh admits. “And the boys deserve to have a little treat.
“A friend suggested I start a GoFundMe page. I didn’t see the harm in it. I’m overwhelmed by people’s generosity.”
Adam and Noah are a great help to their mum and are very good to do their homework.
“Noah is the apple of my eye,” says Niamh. “We both love chocolate! I still try and help the boys with their homework and we have a little bar of chocolate when it’s done.”
The blue-eyed boy has his own chauffeur. “A taxi comes to pick Noah up every morning for school!” says Niamh. “He goes to St Colman’s in Macroom. He loves it and the Brothers of Charity have been a great support to him. Noah is coming along in leaps and bounds.”
Niamh is undergoing treatment for advanced breast cancer that will extend her life, and has one burning ambition as she opens her eyes each morning. “I really want to bring the boys on a trip of a lifetime,” she says. “One that they’ll remember forever.”
She wants to package happy memories for her sons so they can wrap them up for the future.
“We saved up for six months and went to Killarney for a midweek break two years ago,” says Niamh.
A return trip is on her bucket list.
“It would be fantastic to go back there again,” she says.
“I remember when we checked into the hotel. Adam couldn’t believe there was a ‘magic’ door that joined his room to ours! He is still talking about it.”
The youngsters imagined they had arrived in a far-off land with castle turrets on the horizon, painted-faced clowns doing acrobatics and lively music playing on the streets. The colourful candy-striped sweet shops made them wide-eyed with wonder.
“Adam loves music and singing,” Michael says. “He was fascinated with the buskers’ entertainment on the streets in Killarney. He was really funny, doing his own little dances to the music.”
There were other delights to savour on the family’s mini-holiday.
“Sweets and pizza!” say Niamh. “That’s all they wanted.”
Bedtime was up in the air.
“The shops were open until 9pm. We went to Muckross Park and walked around the magnificent grounds. The boys met the jarveys and the horses near the park. Noah was a bit too nervous to go for a spin, but this time we’ll definitely do that.”
Niamh realises there may not be a next time. She wants to give her boys good reason to smile and laugh while she still can. “The boys are my world. I want them to remember good times. They mean everything to me.”
She recalls the day that changed her life.
“It was September 1, 2018,” says Niamh. “In July, last summer, during the heatwave, I was at the bus stop one Saturday morning and I got a violent pain in my tummy. It was like a knife turning inside of me. My first thought was, it must be my appendix. I knew if I neglected it, it could burst and turn nasty.”
However, it emerged that Niamh’s liver had expanded, indicating something more sinister than appendicitis. She was sent to A&E.
“Seven hours later on the Tuesday, I had a biopsy of the liver and a mammogram. Three lumps showed up on my breast, and I tested positive for stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer had spread to my liver and to my bones.”
The news stunned Niamh. “I had no idea,” she says. “I was distraught. “The shock was massive; everything went a bit hazy.”
Time was of the essence.
“There was no point in having surgery,” says Niamh. “The cancer was too advanced. I began a 12-week course of chemotherapy; it was tough but I responded well. The prognosis of five years improved slightly.”
She had to keep the bright side out; protecting those she loved most from the ripple effects of the invasive disease.
“I wasn’t giving up that easy,” she says.
For the first time, she couldn’t tell her boys that everything would be all right.
“You have no idea how effective treatment will be,” says Niamh. “You brace yourself before treatment.”
She braced herself when she lost her lovely long lustrous black hair. “It was down to my bum! I could sit on it,” says Niamh.
She also had to shelve plans to return to education. “I wanted to go back to college to study psychology. That went out the window.”
Her positive attitude remained intact. She wasn’t giving cancer the upper hand. Niamh has a fighting spirit and lifts the spirits of those beside her in the trenches.
“We all became mates in the Dunmanway suite at CUH, getting our chemotherapy treatment. The nurses took my hand gently; they pulled me through,” says Niamh, who has treatment every three weeks to stabilise her condition.
“I also take a bone-strengthener, Xgeva, every six weeks which relieves the chronic back pain. Some days I’m bent over.”
However, she does not dwell on her condition. “I am a very much ‘live for today’ kind of person,” says Niamh. “If you don’t have hope, what’s the point? I rely on my oncologist, Professor O’Reilly.”
Some days it gets a bit much.
“I can ball crying. I often think of my late mother. We were extremely close,” says Niamh. “I am the youngest of four boys and four girls. Mam dedicated her life to us.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“I adore the boys. I love spending time with them,” adds Niamh.
Adam, an ardent Batman fan, is in Senior infants at Scoil Barra, Ballincollig, and intent on visiting his favourite venue in Killarney.
“King Burger!” he says. “That’s my favourite place.” He has other plans for his trip. “He’ll be dancing in the streets!” says Michael, handing me a steaming mug of strong tea.
“I want to get a full body massage!” Niamh chips in.
Her butler will sort that appointment out no doubt. Niamh giggles. “It’s something to look forward to.”
Michael welcomes the prospect of a break too. “We’ll all enjoy the trip, no matter what the weather is like,” he says. “I’ll be all excited, like the kids. I enjoy what they enjoy.”
I have one more question. Can butler Michael be cloned?
To donate, see /https://www.gofundme.com/help-for-me-and-my-boys-having-stage-4-cancer