A Belfast woman living in Australia who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer “breathed a sigh of relief” after her parents were granted a travel exemption to visit her.
Martine Dines discovered a lump on her breast last month while on a trip to the Whitsunday Islands with her fiance Sean Keenan on what should have been their wedding day.
Six days later, the 29-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The couple’s big day has been postponed twice in the past year because of the pandemic and Martine now faces spending the rest of year undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and fertility treatment.
Her parents have been unable to visit because of strict travel restrictions for non-Australian citizens.
“Being away from family right now is definitely the hardest part as I know they are hurting just as much me, but I am in the best country for my treatment and care,” Martine told the Belfast Telegraph.
Earlier this week, a number of celebrities from the UK managed to enter Australia for “work commitments”. According to the Australian Daily Mail, these included starring on reality TV and promoting a line of sex toys.
The discovery sparked outrage from those closest to Martine and others in a similar position.
On Wednesday morning, her fiance launched an appeal on social media for a travel exemption to be granted to her parents on compassionate grounds.
It was on the same day the couple heard that Martine’s cancer had spread.
Sean’s post read: “I am desperate. If you have been through the exemption process, if you have contacts in high places in Ireland or know anyone in Australia who can push this exemption to get her parents here, I would be eternally grateful.”
He spent Wednesday evening calling the offices of Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and a handful of TDs and MLAs in a bid to pressure the Australian Embassy in Dublin.
Just 24 hours later, Martine’s parents were given an exemption to enter Australia next week.
She said that it was thanks to the power of social media, the support from her friends and the help of politicians from Ireland that the “miracle” was granted.
In a heartfelt post on her Instagram page, Martine said she was “eternally grateful” to everyone who helped.
“I can’t tell how relieved I feel knowing they [her parents] are exempt. I can have my family here to fight my illness with me,” she added.
"Yesterday we blew things up on the socials because unfortunately I got some bad news that my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes under my arm.
"A third tumour was found in my breast tissue that was removed and another lymph node on my sternum is suspicious for cancer.
"I will have surgery next week to remove the lymph nodes under my arm and have further scans and biopsies.
"My fears were met when my doctor told me it had spread and it was aggressive. I need my parents more than ever right now. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I cannot stop crying happy tears for once.”
Martine and Sean moved Down Under seven years ago. Since the diagnosis, Australian friends have rallied round to help, as have pals back home.
Podcast host Caroline McKenna, who is originally from Newcastle, has been sharing Martine’s story on social media.
They met last year during one of Caroline’s A County Down Under events in Sydney.
“When Martine started coming to my events, we became great friends,” she said.
"When I heard about her diagnosis and the struggles with gaining travel exemptions, I fought this case like she was my sister.
"We have to be like one another’s family when we are abroad, especially when our family are not able to come and see us.
“We have had an unsettling year. Thousands of people have been stranded all over the world and enough is enough. The government needs to start prioritising those most in need and right now, people like Martine, not reality TV stars.”
A few days after Martine’s diagnosis, Caroline and two other friends, Roisin McAree and Mairead Clancy, opened a GoFundMePage to pay for her parents’ trip to Australia.
More than $30,000 was raised within 24 hours, climbing to more than $60,000 over the next few weeks.
The money will go towards air fares, mandatory quarantine, Martine’s treatment and other living costs, with any excess funds to be donated to breast cancer awareness campaigns in Australia and Ireland.