‘Brave and smiling to the end’

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Today, as Yvonne McGranaghan’s family mark the first anniversary of her death, they’re determined to hold dear the good memories of their mother who passed away after a short battle with Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer.

After being diagnosed with the particularly aggressive illness, mother-ofsix Yvonne was given just a few months to live. She used the precious time to be around her children and nine grandchildren.

Now her family say they want more information and awareness around the illness so that other patients and relatives can be in a better place after a diagnosis.

“Mammy was so brave, and she never complained, she smiled right up until her very last moment, despite everything,” said Marty McGranaghan.

“We just want everyone to know how brave she was, and we think a really good tribute would be to make sure that more information on Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer is made available.”

“We knew little or nothing about the illness, and we had very little time to take anything in.

“And when you know the person you love has very little time left, you want to have as much of the information as possible clear in your head about what lies ahead.”

Marty’s sister Danielle says that the McGranaghan family would be happy to speak to people locally who are wondering what to do after a diagnosis.

“We would like to have had a family to speak to who’d actually been through the illness, and we’d be more than happy now to help others who were in our position.”

In early May 2012, Yvonne first went to her GP with a lump in her neck.

“At first she thought it was just a cyst, but unfortunately, after some tests, they discovered that it was actually thyroid cancer.

“At the time, we found out it was one of the most curable cancers, so we thought she would be ok.

“But it was when they went to remove the lump that they discovered it was Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer – and there was nothing they could do other than offer palliative care.”

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer rapidly invades surrounding tissues such as the trachea and is rarely cured and almost always fatal, with worse prognosis associated with large tumours.

Despite the aggressive nature of the illness, Marty and Danielle say their mother was brave throughout the entire illness.

“She’d come through a lot of battles in her life, and she won them all,” says Marty.

“She had battled alcoholism and went on to set up a branch of Alcoholic Anonymous where we lived in Galliagh.

“She was a really strong woman, and she taught each and every one of us to be strong too.

“When she was sick the doctor said she would have been in a lot of pain, but she never ever let it show.

“She was always somebody who had time for everybody. People knew that her door was always open if they had a problem.

“We’re so proud and happy that we had her for as long as we did. She was independent too, right up until the end, and wanted to do as much as she could for herself.

“She would be the first to say that she wasn’t perfect, and that everyone had their faults, but that was part of what made her so special.”

Yvonne had a lot of support from doctors and hospital staff at Altnagelvin.

In her final days she had home support from Marie Curie nurses.

“We’re so so grateful for that,” says Danielle.

“As a family, it’s such a difficult thing to cope with, but we all pulled together and got through it all together as a family, with my dad Marty.

“I think that’s a great tribute to our mother, because she knew how important family was – and that it was important that we all stuck together.

“She didn’t want to die because she didn’t want to leave her family behind.

“That’s why we want other families locally to know that we understand how difficult it is to watch a person you love going through that. We would love to offer support to anyone who needs it.”