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Brave Lisburn woman Maxine Philp with incurable cancer says she'll never give up fighting for her children

Inspirational mum with terminal cancer vows to defy prognosis

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Maxine Philp with her children , Melissa (16),  Dean (10), Jack (14), Zara (18) Brady at their Lisburn home. Picture: Colm O'Reilly, Sunday Life

Maxine Philp with her children , Melissa (16), Dean (10), Jack (14), Zara (18) Brady at their Lisburn home. Picture: Colm O'Reilly, Sunday Life

Maxine Philp with her children , Melissa (16), Dean (10), Jack (14), Zara (18) Brady at their Lisburn home. Picture: Colm O'Reilly, Sunday Life

As she enjoyed her favourite West Coast Cooler at her daughter Zara's 18th birthday party, Maxine Philp looked around at the smiling faces of her friends and family and made a vow.

She told herself she was determined to live to see her other three children - Melissa, Jack and Dean - reach that milestone too.

It's a hope most mums would take for granted, but last September Maxine, from Lisburn, was given just two-to-three years to live after doctors broke the news that her secondary bowel cancer was incurable.

And with her youngest, Dean, just 11 years old, Maxine knows she has a fight on her hands to see him reach adulthood.

"I'm never going to give up," she says. "When the doctors gave me that timeframe I just said, 'Nope, that's not happening. I'm going to be your miracle. Miracles happen every day and my kids need me'."

Maxine treasures her children. Her eldest, Zara, is currently taking driving lessons so she can take her mum to all her hospital appointments.

Melissa (16) was recently voted prom queen after organising a mental health awareness week at her school, Laurelhill Community College; meanwhile, Jack is the man of the house, helping his mum unpack her shopping, taking the bins out and doing the dishes.

Dean is the baby of the family - Maxine's "cuddle monster" - and also shares his mum's love of musical theatre.

Maxine says her parenting style is based on love and honesty, and she's never hidden her health problems from her children.

"They know about my prognosis, but they also know I'm fighting tooth and nail for them," she says. "This is a house of honesty; my kids know I'll always tell them the truth."

One of the things that helps keep Maxine positive is being on stage. She joined Lisnagarvey Operatic Society following the breakdown of her marriage and when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer in August 2017, and told it had already spread to her liver, the shows gave her something to focus on.

"It took about six months to get a diagnosis," she says. "I was constipated and in pain, but my GP kept telling me to eat more fibre. I have a type of cancer that's common in older people, but there needs to be more awareness that anyone, at any age, can get bowel cancer."

Rock music fan Maxine was eventually sent for scans and a colonoscopy, where a camera is inserted into the bowel. She spotted the cancer at the same time her doctors did.

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SUNDAY LIFE FEATURE - Maxine Brady - supplied by Maxine 06 Mar 2020  Dec 2020 Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

SUNDAY LIFE FEATURE - Maxine Brady - supplied by Maxine 06 Mar 2020 Dec 2020 Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

SUNDAY LIFE FEATURE - Maxine Brady - supplied by Maxine 06 Mar 2020 Dec 2020 Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

"I was chatting away to the medics during the procedure, making jokes," she explains. "I could see the TV screen as the camera explored my intestine. All of a sudden it came up against this huge black thing - blocking the way.

"I blurt out, 'What the hell is that,' and there was this big hurry to turn the camera away from me. They told me not to panic, but I said 'too late!'"

A couple of weeks later, Maxine underwent major surgery to remove a large section of her bowel. One of her ways of making light of the situation is to give names to her medical equipment, so she's had Stefan the Stoma ever since.

"I also have Andy Bag, Pedro Picc Line and Hector the Hernia," she smiles. "Making jokes gets me through. When the doctors first told me I was going to have a colostomy bag, I said, 'Hang on a minute, what am I going to say to potential suitors…

"'Hi I'm Maxine. I'm 43… divorced… with four kids… oh, and I poop in a bag!'

"My dad and sister were with me and they looked horrified. But the doctors and nurses thought it was hilarious."

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Maxine as Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

Maxine as Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

Maxine as Queen Bossanova in Sleeping beauty at the Lisburn Island Civic Centre with Lisnagarvey Operatic Society

Maxine's dad, Ron Philp (67) moved back to Northern Ireland from England to support her. He and her sister Wendy Huston (47) have been her rocks.

She began intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy to tackle the tumour on her liver, taking part in theatre productions throughout her treatment. She's starred in shows including Little Shop of Horrors, My Fair Lady and Sleeping Beauty, sometimes with her chemo pack tucked into her costume.

In spring 2018, she was told there was no trace of the disease, but just months later the cancer markers in her blood were soaring again and scans showed three new tumours on her lymph nodes - one next to her liver, one by her spine and one next to a kidney. By September she'd been told she was incurable.

She is now undergoing further gruelling cycles of chemotherapy, which leaves her feeling sick and exhausted, to buy herself precious extra time with her children.

The devoted mum gets her chemo pack on a Friday fortnightly, wears it over the weekend, then it's taken off on Monday.

On Tuesdays it's rehearsal evening at the operatic society, and if she's feeling too weak to dance Maxine just grabs a chair and sings. They're currently preparing for 9 to 5 The Musical.

"When you get a diagnosis like this, you have two choices," she explains. "You can either curl up and die, or you can fight.

"I was put on this earth to be a mum to those kids and I'm going to fight for every single extra day with them. As far as I'm concerned, the show must go on.

"People ask if I'm going to do a bucket list, but I don't need to. I have everything I need right here at home and I cherish every day."

Maxine's eldest daughter, Zara Brady, says she knows she has a "mum in a million".

"She's so dedicated to us," explains Zara. "Even when she's feeling poorly she never stops pushing herself and making sure that we're all happy.

"She tells us she loves us every day. She always ends every phone call or conversation with 'I love you' no matter what, even if we've been fighting.

"My Mother's Day message to mum was simple - never give up fighting, you have all four of your kids here with you every step of the way. We're all behind you."

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