Cork mum: My heart broke when they told us that our son had leukaemia

As the annual Mercy Heroes fundraising drive takes place, CHRIS DUNNE talks to one mum whose son was diagnosed with leukaemia
Cork mum: My heart broke when they told us that our son had leukaemia

Calvin Mulryan, who is one of the Mercy Heroes.

CALVIN Mulryan is your typical, happy, little three-year-old - he loves play-school, he loves playing with his superheroes, and he loved Olga and Peg, the POONS nurses.

The duo looked after him when he was going through treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL), a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow where the spongy tissue inside the bones are made.

“Calvin was two and a half when he was diagnosed,” says his mum, Emma Galway.

“We noticed at the start of December that he wasn’t walking anymore, he was complaining of a pain in his legs and the colour in his face was gone. We knew he didn’t look like himself, he wasn’t right.”

Calvin was always a bright, bubbly little boy.

“He was always so happy,” says Emma.

“He was full of life and always on the go, now he was thrown down a lot.”

Emma, and Calvin’s dad, Ciarán, were concerned about their son and took him to the doctor who gave them a letter for the CUH.

Calvin Mulryan, in hospital undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia.
Calvin Mulryan, in hospital undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia.

“He checked Calvin out and he told us to go the hospital in a day or two if Calvin was still not OK,” says Emma.

“Calvin was still upset so we decided to go the hospital straight away and not wait any longer. At the hospital his temperature was taken and he was given some Calpol.

“The doctor told us some time later that Calvin had an irritable hip and that’s why he wasn’t walking. We were told to go home and give him some Nurofen and to come back in two or three weeks for further tests.”

Over the next few weeks, Calvin was still complaining.

“On Christmas Day we were at my sister’s,” says Emma. 

“Calvin’s legs went from under him and he had no control. He was crying and very upset. It was the same on St Stephen’s Day, Calvin was crying with pain in his arms. We rang South Doc to know what to do. After an hour we were still waiting.”

The concerned couple decided to go back to the hospital.

“His dad said, Calvin was so small, it wasn’t fair to see him so upset. We went back to the CUH where his bloods were done and he had a chest X-ray,” says Emma.

“The doctor told us Calvin was anaemic and that explained why he was so pale.”

Awaiting further test results in a room in the hospital, Emma had a sinking sensation.

“This horrible feeling came over me,” she says.

“I thought, something’s wrong, but what? Calvin was still very upset and he was empty retching.”

Emma felt alone.

“With Covid, only one parent was allowed to be with their child,” she says. “I was so upset, I wanted Ciarán to be there.”

Then the parents got the dreaded news.

“The nurse said that the doctor wanted a word with both of us. She asked us, what is the worst thing you think it could be?” says Emma.

Calvin Mulryan, with mum Emma and dad Ciaran.
Calvin Mulryan, with mum Emma and dad Ciaran.

“What is the worst case scenario? I just said, ‘cancer’, and she nodded her head.”

What was Emma thinking?

“I thought, this must be a nightmare, he’s only a baby.

“Ciarán was crying when he heard it was leukaemia. I was in total shock,” says Emma.

“I couldn’t take it in and the nurse came over to me and asked me if I understood what was being said.”

Emma did understand.

“My heart was broken when I heard that,” she recalls

Calvin underwent blood transfusions throughout the night before an ambulance took him to Crumlin Children’s Hospital the next morning.

“My heart sank when I heard Crumlin,” says Emma. “I only ever heard of that hospital for very sick kids. I thought, this is really serious.”

She had to tell her family the news.

“We are a very close family,” says Emma, who lives with her parents in Ballyvolane. Ciarán lives nearby.

“We mind my niece and nephew after school every day, Calvin loves playing with them. Trying to explain things to my parents was hard. They brought in the bags we needed for travelling to Dublin. They couldn’t come with us because then we couldn’t leave our county (due to Covid restrictions).”

The close family said goodbye to one another.

“We all hugged each other and wondered when we’d see each other again and when they would see Calvin again.”

The next morning, Calvin and Emma set off for Crumlin Children’s Hospital in the ambulance.

“Ciarán followed us in his car,” says Emma.

Calvin Mulryan, who is one of the Mercy Heroes.
Calvin Mulryan, who is one of the Mercy Heroes.

“We still did not know how severe Calvin’s condition was.

“We were left in the dark, we didn’t know much.”

But Emma and Ciarán knew their son was a little hero.

“Calvin was a bit nervous, everything was so new. None of us knew what to expect.

“He was in St Joseph’s ward and the nurses were so lovely,” says Emma.

The toddler had a test to determine if he was high risk or low risk.

“They did a lumbar puncture to find out if Calvin was high risk or low risk,” says Emma. “He also had a bone marrow test.

A Hickman line was put in his chest for chemotherapy and for bloods. When they had done all that the doctor thankfully told us that Calvin was low risk.”

Emma and Ciarán were more relieved.

“Ok, it was a bad situation, but this was the best news we got,” says Emma. “Calvin’s treatment plan was put in place and he started chemotherapy treatment. We were in Crumlin 12 days all together. I stayed in the room with Calvin and Ciarán was in the parents’ accommodation on the second floor where I could go for a rest or a shower,” says Emma.

Calvin began to bounce back.

“We felt more positive,” says Emma. “Now that Calvin was low risk, we were going in the right direction.

“He was on steroids for 29 days and that was hard. Calvin was awake all hours and his moods changed from happy, to sad, to angry.”

Calvin Mulryan, in hospital undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia.
Calvin Mulryan, in hospital undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia.

Calvin was allowed to come home after 12 days of treatment in Crumlin.

“He was able to get most of his sessions of chemotherapy at the Mercy Hospital and he took chemo tablets at home every night,” says Emma.

His friends came to see him.

“Olga and Peg were amazing,” says Emma, speaking about the POONS nursing service. POONS stands for Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nursing Service

“They came every week, which was fantastic, especially if Calvin wasn’t up to a hospital visit. Olga and Peg kept us out of the hospital environment. They provided some normality for us.”

Calvin was his usual bubbly bright self when he saw Olga and Peg arriving.

“Even though he loved the Mercy nurses on the ward, he was always excited to see Peg and Olga,” says Emma. “He’d look out the window to see them coming.”

Olga and Peg got a great welcome.

“And he always had a big smile on his face!” says Emma.

“Olga and Peg checked his bloods every week and changed the dressings on the tubes. When Calvin had an infection on the Hickman line, Olga came every day for a week to give him antibiotics. She was just fantastic.” 

Calvin was very brave.

“Calvin is very brave,” says Emma.

“We’d tell him, you’re our warrior, our superhero.” 

Soon, Calvin was back to his old self.

“He loves tractors,” says Emma.

“He loves his cousins who come after school. Calvin is bouncing back well. He is on maintenance now and he is done with all intensive treatment until 2024.” 

Emma was always there for her superhero.

“I stopped work after he was diagnosed,” says Emma.

“There were so many hospital appointments and we never knew what to expect. That was a constant worry.” 

Now brave Calvin is a Mercy hero.

“It think people should donate for the POONS nursing services 100%,” says Emma.

“What the nurses do is amazing. They brought normality into our lives and made our lives that bit easier. The service is fantastic. We were so blessed to have Olga and Peg come to the house. The nurses loved Calvin.” 

Calvin is lovable.

“He is a real little charmer and a real little character.”


The Mercy University Hospital Foundation is encouraging people to support this year’s campaign to raise much-needed funds for the Mercy Kids & Teens Appeal. Funds raised will especially support the unique POONS service. POONS stands for Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nursing Service and allows children with cancer to receive treatment from the comfort of their own home. The only service of its kind in Ireland, it has proved immeasurable support for Cork’s youngest patients and their families over the last number of years. This crucial service covers a large geographical area from Youghal to Bantry and Mitchelstown to Kinsale as well as surrounding counties so that all children have access to this service regardless of their location.

Donations can be made online, see: www.mercyhospitalfoundation.

By joining forces with family, friends or colleagues to host a virtual or in-person coffee morning. Schools around the country are also being encouraged to join in the fun by holding a Dress up/Dress down day to support theses young heroes.

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