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'What truly made Lisa courageous in her fight with cancer was her love of life and fear of death'

Lisa Magill's searingly honest blog about her terminal diagnosis won her tens of thousands of avid readers around the world. Her mum, originally from Antrim, tells Lisa Smyth why she decided to turn her late daughter's online posts into a book

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Lisa Magill

Lisa Magill

Lisa, Geraldine’s mum Ellen Loughran and Geraldine on a trip to Tasmania

Lisa, Geraldine’s mum Ellen Loughran and Geraldine on a trip to Tasmania

Geraldine with a copy of the new book about Lisa

Geraldine with a copy of the new book about Lisa

Lisa Magill

Lisa Magill moved from Northern Ireland with her family when she was only eight years old. Settling into her new life in Australia was a challenge, but it was nothing compared to the fight that lay ahead.

When she was just 30 years old Lisa was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer, and just a few years later doctors gave her the crushing news that the disease was incurable.

However, Lisa reacted to that with the same determination she displayed as a youngster finding her way in a strange country on the other side of the world.

One of the first things she did was start up a blog, Terminally Fabulous, where she could record her emotions as she grappled to come to terms with the prognosis.

However, it very quickly became a global sensation, with almost 65,000 followers on Facebook alone.

Old friends from Northern Ireland signed up to follow their pal's battle, as well as countless strangers from around the world, as Lisa posted no-holds barred updates on the reality of living with a terminal disease.

Now, nearly three years after her tragic passing, Lisa's mum Geraldine has turned her daughter's searingly honest cancer journey blog into a book.

"A few months before Lisa turned 34 we were told she was terminal," says Geraldine. "We all struggled so badly with this news, Lisa in particular. She was devastated.

"She decided to write her thoughts and worries down in the hope of helping her to get her head around it somehow.

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Lisa, Geraldine’s mum Ellen Loughran and Geraldine on a trip to Tasmania

Lisa, Geraldine’s mum Ellen Loughran and Geraldine on a trip to Tasmania

Lisa, Geraldine’s mum Ellen Loughran and Geraldine on a trip to Tasmania

"It wasn't long before her following of 'Rock Stars', as Lisa referred to her blog followers, grew by thousands, sharing their own tragic experiences with cancer and providing her with so much love and support. They were amazing. They always knew what to say when she was at her lowest.

"Lisa responded to hundreds of private messages from others crying out for help with a terminal illness or one of their family members going through it.

"She found this rewarding as she felt she was making someone else's journey a little less difficult."

Lisa was just a child when she and her family left their home in Antrim and moved to Australia. Geraldine continued: "She settled well, though she struggled at school initially as a result of her Irish accent.

"She hated standing out amongst the crowd and as a result of this, both Lisa and her brother Steven, who was five at the time, learned the Aussie twang extremely quickly."

The years passed and Lisa excelled at school - according to Geraldine she was the type of child who came home and did her homework without being told.

Geraldine continues: "Her school reports were always excellent although she could be a bit of a talker. She studied hard and got the results she needed to study criminology at university but opted to take a year out before starting her course."

During her gap year Lisa began working for a local politician and enjoyed the PR side of it and working for the community so much that she never took up her place at university.

She was living in Sydney and had just celebrated her 30th birthday when her life was changed forever.

"Lisa hadn't long turned 30 when she was visiting her dad and I in Brisbane," explains her mum. "We were out for a walk when Lisa asked me to feel a lump that had appeared to the left of her abdomen, which stretched up to her ribcage and looked the size of half of a large Easter egg.

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Geraldine with a copy of the new book about Lisa

Geraldine with a copy of the new book about Lisa

Geraldine with a copy of the new book about Lisa

"I was so shocked to see it but tried my best to remain calm for Lisa's sake. She was always quite mature, she wasn't the type to ignore medical issues and she told me she'd been to a local doctor in Sydney, not her normal GP, and he advised her she may have a kidney infection.

"I wasn't convinced as we all know kidney pain normally starts in your back, Lisa was doubtful herself and had made an appointment with her own GP for the day she arrived back in Sydney.

"Her GP knew immediately it was a large tumour and had her booked in for surgery within the next week or so. It was a nightmare of a time for us all.

"My dad flew over from Antrim to be with us when Lisa was having the tumour removed. Because gastrointestinal sarcoma is rare, the pathology was sent to multiple pathologists in Australia and the US before it was confirmed as an undifferentiated gastrointestinal sarcoma, in other words a cancer that hadn't been seen before.

"In total the diagnosis took two months, the longest two months of our lives."

Lisa began treatment, determined that she would beat the disease. In the early days she stayed in Sydney and her parents travelled to her to accompany her to her hospital appointments.

However, once Lisa was told her condition was terminal she made the decision to move to Brisbane to be closer to family.

It was during this time that she started her blog. No subject was off limits - she wrote about her fear of dying and even covered dating while terminally ill.

Her hugely popular blog culminated with a heartbreaking video message from Lisa, made just days before she passed away, in which she described her overwhelming pain.

Geraldine continues: "What truly made Lisa courageous in her fight with cancer was her love of life and fear of death. Lisa loved everything about life. I don't believe I could have fought like Lisa did, her suffering was immeasurable but she would go to any length to see another day.

"She enjoyed having real conversations and finding out new things about people, that's probably why she found connecting with others through her blog so easy, she genuinely cared for others and their lives whilst hers was slipping away.

"That's what makes us most proud. The most challenging times for us both was when Lisa's pain was at its worst and she was on the highest dose of multiple medications.

"As much as the meds were keeping her alive, they also had some nasty side-effects. They played havoc with her moods, she tried to control them but it was difficult and as with anyone in these situations she would take her frustration out on me.

"That was difficult for us both, but as soon as she would lash out she would regret it, as I always knew she would. Lisa never, ever meant to hurt. Sadly cancer takes away everything, it has full control."

In the months after losing Lisa, Geraldine fulfilled her promise to her only daughter that she would turn her blog into a book. And while Geraldine is extremely proud of the finished product, the writing process was extremely difficult.

"Each time I would revisit a chapter or have to edit something I felt like I was back living that horrific nightmare once again," she admits.

"Selecting photos was heartbreaking. At times I put the book down and couldn't touch it again for weeks on end. It was like reliving your worst nightmare time and time again.

"Now the book has been launched I feel a mixture of relief and pride - I know Lisa would have been so proud of the responses we received."

So, how does Geraldine remember her daughter?

"She loved socialising, shopping, family and making others happy," she says.

"She had a heart of gold. She often told her dad and I before she passed that one of her biggest regrets is that she wouldn't be here to look after us when we got older. That was Lisa.

"She had a strong belief about being honest, she called a spade a spade with no beating about the bush, you never had to second guess what Lisa was thinking as she always told you.

"But she was also loyal, as an employee, a friend, a girlfriend or a family member, she always had your back.

"She loved family get-togethers, a nice meal, a glass of wine and lots of laughs.

"And Christmas time was her absolute favourite time of the year, especially the lead-up.

"She'd make sure every gift she bought for someone was something they truly wanted and it would be wrapped to perfection.

"Seeing others happy made her truly happy."

Terminally Fabulous: A young woman's fight for dignity and fabulousness on her terminal cancer journey by Lisa and Geraldine Magill, £19, available on Amazon

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