'My perfect brother who loved life was slipping away in front of us' Emma Nugent (25) lost her young brother to cancer in May 2010 when he was 18. The Dublin woman speaks about the heartbreak of losing Ross and her family's determination to fulfil his wishes through the Ross Nugent Foundation which raises money for the oncology wards in Beaumont hospital
My instinct when I heard Ross had been diagnosed with cancer was to throw everything in a bag and get home to him. I couldn't get a flight because the airport was closed due to heavy snow, so I drove to Holyhead and got on a ferry and was home the soonest I could after I had received the phone call.
"Ross was four years younger than me and I know that sounds like an age gap but we were the best of friends and did everything together. It was natural for me to slip into the role of carer, and for the next five months I was by his side when he went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment. His strength left me amazed.
"I might get up exhausted in the morning, as might Mum and Dad, but if Ross could be strong and positive, then so could we all. Ross kept us all going, and it wasn't only his determination to beat cancer but it was the way he immediately got us all talking about improving the facilities in the oncology ward in Beaumont Hospital once he was cured.
"Ross was going to study events management in DIT. He was the one everybody went to if they wanted something organised, whether it was music for a party, or the party or event itself.
"He had the most charismatic personality of anyone you'd ever meet, and drew people towards him always. His dream was to set up his own events management company in New York. Ever the organiser, his plan was to tour schools when he got better to talk about being a teenager and having cancer, so that other students would know not to be frightened.
"He got a fright when he was told he had cancer. You don't hear of that many 18-year-olds getting diagnosed with cancer, do you? It always tends to be older people, and yet, once Ross had time to think about it, he came back strong and said he was going to beat the disease, no question about it.
"There was the four of us, Ross, me, Mum and Dad. I think I was in a bit of a trance looking back, and even when I saw how thin he was, and the effects of the treatment, I never thought we would be less than four.
"It started with Ross complaining of back pain in September 2009, and on doctor's advice he went for some physiotherapy. He was assistant head boy in Malahide Community School and was involved in the school's variety show and would come home from the show and lie on the couch with a hot water bottle and pain killers.
"It was when he began losing weight that alarm bells really began to ring, and Ross was sent for an X-ray and an MRI scan but they both came back clear. A neurologist we knew visited us and the result was that Ross went into A&E in Beaumont Hospital and it was then we got the awful news that he had a horrendous and rare form of cancer called Ewings Sarcoma.
"Four months later, my younger brother, the lively boy who was always the centre of attention and who loved art and music and hip-hop dancing and sitting on the sofa watching TV and chatting, and was loved by everyone who ever met him, was slipping away in front of our eyes.
My perfect brother Ross passed away peacefully with all of us beside him on Saturday, May, 15, 2010 at 6.55am. We will never be over it, but the one thing I've learned from counselling is not to expect to get over the loss but to learn to live with it. As a family we're living with Ross being gone by keeping him close to us every day by fulfilling his wish to improve the facilities in Beaumont Hospital and in oncology wards in any other hospital which needs it.
"My mum made Ross a promise that she would help him get a new blood pressure machine for Beaumont once he was better. They were always having trouble with the old machine taking his blood pressure. It was the first thing the Ross Nugent Foundation achieved after being set up.
"The Foundation was established in July 2010, two months after Ross's death, and our main objectives are to raise funds for equipment in oncology wards in Beaumont and other hospitals, and in the first year we raised over €100,000 for new hospital equipment.
"The hardest decision I have had to make since Ross passing away is to go to London to live with my childhood sweetheart, Rene Gilmartin, who plays for Watford Football Club. I've been going back and forth to the UK for the past six years, but please don't call me a WAG!
"I'm doing a post-graduate course in London to become a primary school teacher, and it is very intense, but I try to get home at least once a month to see Mum and Dad, and I think I miss them even more than they miss me.
"We all have our good days and our bad days, and it helps for us to be together, and that's another incentive for me and Mum and Dad to keep organising fundraising events because it means there are always events that bring us and our extended family and friends and Ross's friends together to raise money and think about Ross."
For info on upcoming fundraising events log onto www.rossnugentfoundation.ie.
>in conversation with anna coogan