Now, on the eve of Mother’s Day, they and their mum Vera McCarthy are united once again in the face of adversity.
It all started in 2012 when Valerie underwent brain surgery for a rare condition called Moyamoya disease, which results in blocked arteries at the base of the brain.
“I still have the videos of my little boy shaving my hair for the operation,” said Valerie. Her diagnosis of stage three breast cancer came on the weekend of her birthday in November, 2015.
“That whole entire time I never cried,” she said. However, that all changed when her sister Sylvia was diagnosed last December. “When I heard, I thought I was going to vomit,” Valerie said.
Sylvia and husband Michael have three sons, Seán, 14, Nathan, 12, and Darren, 9. She recalls the warning signs of her illness.
“I was at a wedding last July when I felt what I thought was indigestion,” Sylvia said. “I went outside and had to hold on to the handle of the car just to stay upright.
I was grand for a few weeks after that. I was given tablets by my doctor but it continued to get worse.
“It got to the stage where even water made
Sylvia said her initial reaction was one of “complete shock,” but added: “Once I knew there was a plan in place I felt that little bit more settled.”