Dad’s 5,400 miles on a bike to fulfil daughter’s dying wish
It was the dying wish of his daughter. Margarita Kelly fought a courageous battle with cancer for eight years, and the night before the disease finally claimed her life she asked her father to make her one final promise.
Just one year later Mark Kelly — accompanied by family and friends — fulfilled his daughter’s last request by cycling across America and raising tens of thousands of pounds for a range of Northern Ireland charities.
Even after breaking his shoulder while training just a week before leaving for the US Mr Kelly, from outside Moira, was determined he would not fail his daughter and set off regardless.
It took the 60-year-old potato farmer two months to complete the marathon 5,400-mile journey — and all the while he believes Margarita was with him, willing him to succeed.
“She was sitting on my shoulder the whole time,” he said.
“Margarita was so positive. She always said she was going to beat the cancer right up to the night before she died. I’ll never forget, she said to me, ‘Daddy, I’m going to die’, but I just couldn’t accept it. She asked me to cycle across America to raise money.
“It was quite a challenge but I never thought about not doing it. I always wanted to travel across America but I never thought I would do it on a bike.”
Margarita was just 12 years old when doctors found a tumour in her jaw. She underwent a gruelling regime of chemotherapy and radiotherapy before surgeons performed a 15-hour operation to remove the tumour.
Mr Kelly said: “She was an awful active little girl, great at sport and running. Three weeks before she was diagnosed she ran a race and won it. She was very outgoing and full of life.
“The operation was very tough. They had never done it on someone as young before. Waiting for news was desperate — we went to Hell and back. When the surgeon and anaesthetist came out I never saw two people look more exhausted. They cut away a lot of her jaw and then took bone from her leg to replace it.
“She was in intensive care for over a week and her face was massive and all bruised. She was miserable for a while but she started to come around and she got back to school.”
Two years passed until doctors broke the news the cancer had returned.
“They found a shadow on her lung, so they removed part of her lung,” explained Mr Kelly.
“She was only 14. It was another ordeal. She had chemo and radiotherapy but she coped unbelievably well. She never really moaned or groaned.
“She’d been doing better for a few years when she got a pain in her hip. They did a couple of scans and found the cancer in her hip. They were going to give her a hip replacement but the surgeon said he wanted a full scan of her body first and that’s when they found it had spread. She was only 18 or 19 at the time.
“She lasted about a year-and-a -half after that. They gave up on the chemo but gave her drugs for the pain.
“The pain was desperate but she never gave up, except the night she told me she was going to die and she asked me to do the cycle.
“She came home from the Royal a week or so before she died. She wanted to be at home. She has four sisters and three brothers and they’re all very close. It was marvellous for us all to be together; that’s the way she wanted it.”