Mary's Journey of Hope

For: Mary Philbin
Organizer: The Mary Philbin Fund
of $50,000 goal
16% Complete
Raised by 17 donors

The Story


Eight years ago in May 2005, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. At the time I was diagnosed, I wasn't to know having undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and beating the cancer, that I would be left with very severe and long-term side effects from the treatment. The last eight years have been an ongoing battle with many hospitalizations and suffering. I didn't think the discovery of my illness would someday lead me from a small town in Ireland to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But here I am. 

Going back to when I was diagnosed, I was told I had nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which was a tumor of my sinuses and extending to the base of my tongue, to the base of my brain and up to my left eye. 

Two years I had been waiting for an answer to my pain and lack of energy; life was tumbling down around me, and nothing would kill the pain. I was existing, not living. 

The day I got my answer -- an answer no one wants to get -- but, in my case, it left me with options: My cancer was highly treatable, so I had radiotherapy for seven weeks and five rounds of chemo, the last round of which I refused, as I felt I was at death's door. At this point, I hadn't been eating anything.
I started my treatment on the 8th of August and two weeks in as a result of radiation damage, I lost my saliva, as my salivary glands were completely destroyed. I was unable to eat, as the radiation was so severe and intense, it burned (you could say 'fried') my mouth and throat, literally, for the three months duration of my treatment. 

I spent my days and nights coughing up blood. I can remember there were months in which I couldn't brush my teeth. The pain was so horrendous that before I could even get the toothbrush in my hand to start, I was too weak to stand. After some time, the nurses had coerced me into letting them use sponge swabs and a petri dish full of water at my bedside. It took some persuasion to get around me, as it was a traumatic ordeal, cleaning the blood stains from my teeth and mouth. That was an all day, everyday occurrence while going through the radiotherapy treatment. There were times during the radiotherapy treatment when they had no choice but to stop the treatment to give me breaks, sometimes for two weeks in between, as my system broke down, and I just wasn't able to go through it. So, what started out as being seven weeks of radiotherapy, took me three months to complete. It was a matter of weighing up the pros and cons.  

The essence of what I am saying is that if the cancer wasn't killing me, the treatment surely was. I was failing and getting weaker, and my system was breaking down. I felt like I was dying a slow death. I was a patient, but I could relate to the concept of time, in terms of a prisoners life, because I kept focused on how much longer it would be before the treatment would cease. The day I refused the last round of chemo, I guess some would say I took my chances -- maybe so, but I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I believe if I took that last round of chemo, I wouldn't be here today. The doctor took one look at me; I was ready to put up a fight, but he never argued with me. 

During those months, I knew what it was like to hit rock bottom, and when you're down that low, it's very hard to see yourself getting back up. Being so weak and in so much pain, there was no life in me. I was barely able to walk for months without someone with me. There were times, as a result of nerve damage from treatment, that I used to collapse to the ground, and it would take me ages to get back up on my feet. And I would get no warning signs -- scary, because on one occasion, I was crossing the road! During this time, I lost my voice for three months from the radiation. I communicated via pen and paper. The doctors involved in my care at the time thought my voice would never come back, but it finally did. 

All in all, my battle was one of victory, for I have seen many kindred people and good friends come and go since I got sick. With the will of God, I am still here, and I certainly don't take that for granted, having survived the last eight years. It can only be said from experience, having endured all the suffering, that the human body is a testament to what the human spirit can withstand. That does amaze me. 

I have often seen the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," and a line in it sticks with me: "You either get busy livin' or get busy dyin." I know you certainly can't do both. Many times throughout my treatment, I have heard those very words echo through my mind and thoughts, and the conclusion I came to was this: I was doing neither; I was somewhere in between -- just existing. 

I was always a person to live in the moment because that's all any of us have. I'm not going to say that I don't think about the future, but I didn't worry about it. I loved going out and rarely refused an invite from friends. I loved life. I always knew, you only live once. My friends have often heard me say, "You only live once; you could be dead tomorrow", and that very truth transpired in my life. I tried not to leave anything unsaid and strived to do the things I aspired to; travelling being my heart's desire. When all my friends around me wanted to go to New York, I wanted to see the country. Being a country girl and a lover of country and bluegrass music, I wanted to go to Nashville, Tennessee, Montana and North Carolina. 

In 2005, I was 19. It was May of the end of my first year in college right before I was due to sit for my exams when I was diagnosed. During that year, I skipped into town one day with every intention to take out a loan to travel. I was prepared to leave college. I knew I could always return. I wanted to be free, living and experiencing life. I didn't want to be institutionalized in college at such a young age. 

Well, that never did come through for me and, although I'm cancer free, I am left with very severe side effects. Not being able to eat, having to live on liquid nutrition, a permanent dry mouth due to the radiation, and so many hospitalizations over the past eight years, I have lost count. Needless to say, all of this really wipes you out physically. It's been a long road, a road that has been my life, my journey. 

How did I end up in North Carolina? That road I was on found me at a crossroads in my life with two choices. I had been told recently following medical tests that I am significantly aspirating into my lungs. I knew straight off that wasn’t good. The only thing in my mind was how long will my now healthy lungs sustain that? I was told that the only thing on my side is my youth and that I’m mobile. And then I was offered a peg tube (stomach feeding tube). I knew I definitely didn’t want to go down that road if I could at all help it. I had had a peg tube for seven months while I was undergoing treatment. I had to take everything through the tube, as I was too sore and in too much pain to even contemplate eating, and I was just too weak. 

So, now I was being offered a peg tube again, and several times I refused it. At this point, there was no more that could be offered, as more surgery was too high a risk. So, I began to research online and discovered a wonderful doctor who was based in North Carolina. I read stories online where there were patients of his who weren’t able to eat -- some for 10 years -- and needing regular procedures as I had had. I thought I had to meet this man.  

For some reason, I knew it was no coincidence that I discovered this doctor. I’m a great believer in faith. The only thing was, how was I going to get myself to North Carolina, taking into account that I couldn’t fly due to the side effects from treatment? In any event, I knew it was going to be a gamble I would have to take because I knew there was no guarantee this doctor could do anything until he saw me. And then there was the long journey for someone in my shoes. At the best of times, I have little or no energy. I wasn’t eating anything, living on a liquid diet, and the previous year, I had been in and out of hospital almost every other month. So leaving Ireland, I was anything but strong, at least physically. But in my mind and heart, I was strong. 

I left Ireland in November 2012. We drove to the bottom of Ireland to Rosslare, County Waterford, got the ferry to Fishguard in Wales, made it by car to Southampton, England, and got on a ship there bound for the US. Seven days and nights later, the ship docked at Manhattan harbor, New York. The train journey from New York to North Carolina to where I needed to go was a duration of 12 hours, 45 minutes. I made it in 13 days, having to stop along the way because I was so weak. But I made it. 

At this point, I have had surgery not long after arriving, just before Christmas, and it has gone very well. I am still recovering and trying to get myself strong for further surgery. I am not able to eat food yet, but I am hopeful. 

However, I am fighting more than the one battle of my current health. I'm here on the faith that there is opportunity in America to improve my condition and, in doing so, improve my life. But it comes with great expense. And I need your help. 

I passionately plea to anyone out there in the world who might find themselves in a position to help me, no matter how small. It will be greatly appreciated. I see this as my last shot at improving my life. I’m only 26, and I may not get this chance again. I’ve heard it said, "If you reach for the moon, you just may land on a star."

Well, I certainly hope that’s true. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read my story. 

Best wishes, Mary Philbin

If you'd like to contact Mary directly, you can email her at: [email protected]


Please help us help Mary. You can make your donation directly on this website by clicking on the blue "Give Now" button to the right of Mary's video. Prayerfully consider a donation -- no matter how small. Every dollar helps towards her enormous medical and travel expenses. 

Be sure to also use the social media tools on Mary’s web page to share her story with your email address book, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn associates and other connections you may have. Let’s make this effort go viral to help this family in their time of need. Together, with God’s grace, WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!   

Blessings, The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force

Special thanks to Bob Buckley and the WGHP Fox 8 Buckley Report for beautifully capturing the essence of Mary's story in the following video:

- See more at:

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on April 18, 2014

Posted on April 18, 2014

There has been $26,058 of the $50,000 goal raised up to this point, however due to a change in our organizer there had to be a new page created.

Posted on January 29, 2014

Posted on January 29, 2014

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
What an unbelievable day it's been with donations for Mary Philbin's Journey of Hope! Ever since an article about Mary appeared today in the Ireland's Independent (, people have been sharing their love and their money in support of Mary's courageous journey of hope to America for medical treatment for a better quality of life. Thank you, Caroline Crawford, for writing the story!
We are so humbled and grateful by the tremendous outpouring of support, and encourage those who have given and those who are visiting here for the first time to be sure to share Mary's story with your family, friends, work associates, neighbors, Facebook friends, email contacts, etc. You can even use the social media tools on this page to get started!
Be sure to watch her video at, read her inspiring story in her own words and get behind this effort on both sides of the Atlantic to raise enough money to cover her enormous medical expenses. You can easily donate on her site by clicking on the blue "Give Now" button beside her video.
THANK YOU for all that you have done and will continue to do to share Mary's story. Be sure to check back for more updates, and please keep Mary and her family in your constant prayers.
God Bless!

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
Thank you to all the good folks who came out to support the Mary Philbin Journey of Hope fundraiser at Finnigan's Wake Irish Pub June 7-8. We had a great time and were thrilled that Mary was able to join us Saturday night! A big thank you t
o owner Philip Kirby (a.k.a. Opie) for sponsoring the event. The staff was very accommodating, the band was excellent and Mary had one of the few (but best) nights out since coming to America. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued support, and please share her story with your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and email contacts!

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
Huge thanks to all of the volunteers and participants who turned out Saturday, May 18, for the Chick-fil-A carwash fundraiser for Mary. The rain managed to hold off for two hours, but we raised $320 before deciding to "throw in the towel." Besides, all of us looked like a bunch of drowned rats, and it made drying the cars as part of our service rather futile!
It was a lot of fun and fellowship, and we're very grateful to the donors and everyone who provided supplies. THANK YOU!
Be sure to see some of the event photos in the Photo Gallery!

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
We would like to express our special thanks to Keya in High Point, NC for the donation of t-shirts and Quality Foil Stamping & Embossing, Inc. in Kernersville, NC for the donation of screen printing services in the production of the Journey of Hope t-shirts for Mary Philbin. We are very grateful for your expression of kindness and long hours to make this special t-shirt a reality. We will proudly wear them at various fundraisers for Mary, including the Chick-fil-A carwash on May 18 and the Finnigan's Wake event on June 7-8.
The front of the shirt says "Journey of Hope" with Mary's website address ( underneath. A large celtic heart knot represents the outpouring of love for this extraordinary young lady, and the woven element of the knot represents the journey her life has taken her the past eight years.
The back of the shirt displays the American and Irish flags crossed, as if joining hands, in our combined efforts to help support Mary through numerous fundraising events and donations. Symbolically, we've got her back. Mary's website address supports the flags and is a visual reminder of where people can go to see Mary's video, read her story and help change her life.
You can see a sneak peek of the t-shirt in the Photo Gallery.
As always, thank you so much to everyone for what you continue to do to support our efforts. Spread the word!

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
In preparation for the Finnigan's Wake fundraiser June 7-8, we canvassed the Arts District along Trade Street in Winston-Salem to ask shop owners if they would put our flyer in their front window or checkout counter. Not one turned us down! In Mary's photo section, you can see several photos of the flyer in the Finnigan's Wake front window where the fundraiser will be held.
Thank you shop owners and Finnigan's Wake for being so kind and generous! We hope to have a highly successful weekend June 7-8, and look forward to everyone coming out to eat. drink and be merry FOR Mary! Finnigan's will donate a portion of the weekend's proceeds for Mary's medical expenses.

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
We have several upcoming events to raise funds for Mary Philbin's medical expenses. Please join us if you can, or make a donation here to help support our cause. We appreciate so very much everything everyone is doing for Mary. We are blessed by your generosity.
May 18 -- Chick-fil-A Carwash
Location: Chick-fil-A parking lot at 1925 Peace Haven Road, Winston Salem, NC 27106 (corner of Peace Haven and Robinhood)
Tel: (336) 659-8140
Time: 10:00 a.m. -- 1:00 p.m.
Note: Get your vehicle washed, and make a donation!
May 31 -- Irish Meal
Location: Pine Grove United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 1130 Jonestown Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Tel: (336) 765-2569
Time: TBD (stay tuned for time)
Note: Mary's mother, Eileen, will provide Irish recipes that will be used for this event.
June 7-8 -- Finnigan’s Wake Irish Pub and Kitchen Fundraiser
Location: 620 N. Trade Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Tel: (336) 723-0322
Time: Lunch and Dinner
Note: We will receive a percentage of the weekend's proceeds to go towards Mary's medical expenses. All you have to do is eat, drink and be merry!

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force

I just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of Marys WONDERFUL SUPPORTERS, for your kind words of encouragement and very generous donations which are very much appreciated. We are truly humbled by your kindness and generosity. May God Bless you all.
Love and Prayers,   
Eileen X (Marys Mother)

by The Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
Dear Supporters,
I continue to be humbled and deeply touched by the generous outpouring of love and support for Mary Philbin and her mother, Eileen. Please continue to keep them in your prayers, and please help us spread the word by directing your friends, family and co-workers to Mary's website ( to see her video and read her story. She is truly an amazing and courageous young woman who is an inspiration to everyone who meets her.
Thank you all for what you've done and continue to do on Mary's behalf.
Blessings and peace,
Tom James, chairperson Mary Philbin Journey of Hope Task Force
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