Belfast Telegraph

Dad joins his daughters for Race for Life fundraiser in memory of the mum they miss so much

Peter Graham with his daughters, Genevieve (left) and Harriet
Peter Graham with his daughters, Genevieve (left) and Harriet
Family tribute: Lisa Graham

By Lisa Smyth

Two Northern Ireland schoolgirls are taking part in Race for Life in memory of their mum after she lost her battle with a rare kidney cancer.

Six-year-old Genevieve Graham and her sister Harriet (13), from Bangor, are running in the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) fundraising event for the third year in a row.

And this year they will be joined by their dad, 45-year-old Peter, who can finally take part after the female-only event was opened to men.

The girls were just two and nine respectively when doctors broke the devastating news that their mum, Lisa, had incurable cancer.

Taking part in the annual CRUK event is just one of the ways they honour their mum's memory.

Peter explained: "We are trying to get on with our lives and live like Lisa would have wanted, but we talk about her all the time, especially with Genevieve, because she was so young when she lost her mummy."

Lisa, who ran a coffee shop in Bangor alongside Peter, was diagnosed with cancer in December 2014. She had been complaining of a pain in her back for a year and eventually a scan showed a tumour in her back, which was benign.

However, it also showed that there was something on the kidney which did not look right. More scans, an ultrasound and a kidney biopsy revealed the awful truth - Lisa had an extremely rare form of kidney cancer called collecting duct carcinoma.

It is so rare that the doctors treating Lisa had only seen one other case in Ireland.

Peter continued: "We had a call from the hospital asking us to come in for a talk.

"I assumed they were going to tell us Lisa would need surgery, probably have her kidney removed, but in no way was I prepared to hear the dreadful words 'Lisa has only a few months to live'.

"I was numb with shock - when we entered the hospital the sun was shining and we were feeling quite positive but our mood had drastically changed when we left.

"Yes, the sun was still shining, but our whole world had crumbled. How could anyone say six to eight weeks? It all seemed so unreal.

"Just a few months before we had been on holiday in Spain with the girls, really happy watching them play and chatting together about their future, a future we no longer could share together."

Unwilling to accept the prognosis, Lisa insisted upon chemotherapy to give her as much time as possible with her precious children.

Peter added: "Lisa was such a wonderful mum and the girls were so young that she wanted to be around for as long as possible.

"The chemotherapy was tough on her but she did it to keep the cancer at bay so she could make memories with the girls.

"We were able to go for a holiday to Center Parcs, which was tough going, but we were also able to enjoy it and it was so important to Lisa that we could go."

However, by the summer of 2015, a decision was made to halt the chemotherapy as the treatment was so severe and it wasn't having the desired effect on the tumour.

She was dealt a further blow when she had to be admitted to hospital for treatment for the side effects of radiotherapy she was undergoing.

Desperate to return home and be with her girls, Lisa (39) was only convinced to remain in hospital because Peter was allowed to stay with her.

"I stayed with Lisa for two weeks, until she lost her battle on February 20, 2016," he said.

"The girls were still young, Harriet was nine and Genevieve two and it was really important to Lisa that Genevieve should attend the same nursery school as Harriet.

"Thankfully we were successful in arranging that and Lisa was able to leave hospital for an hour, as we took Genevieve to her first day.

"It was very emotional, but being able to do that meant so much to Lisa and Genevieve."

And even though Peter knew the end was near, he was still devastated when it came.

"You just don't believe it will really happen," he said.

"I was left with two little girls and no matter how much I tried, I could not be Lisa.

"Yes, I was their daddy, but they needed their mummy.

"Her passing has left a huge hole in our lives, but family have been a great source of strength.

"Harriet is in second form at Glenlola Collegiate and Genevieve has now settled into school and is in primary two at Ballyholme Primary School.

"I am very proud of how the girls have coped and I know Lisa would be too."

CRUK relies on the public's support to continue its vital research.

Belfast is recognised worldwide for ground-breaking cancer research and thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity was able to spend around £3m last year in Northern Ireland on some of the UK's leading scientific and clinical research - helping more men, women and children survive the disease.

The charity is hosting two fundraising events in Belfast on May 26 - Race for Life at Stormont and Pretty Muddy at Ormeau Park.

For further information on how to sign up to the events on May 26, log on to www.raceforlife.org

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