Ellie Mai Murphy pictured with her mother Kelley Quigley and stepfather David Quigley.

Glasson woman fundraising for charity after recovering from blood cancer

Ellie Mai Murphy (19) from Glasson is fundraising for the Bone Marrow for Leukemia Trust following her own battle with a rare type of leukemia called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In May 2023, Ellie Mai was diagnosed with the blood cancer at the age of 18 after getting a blood test for an unrelated health condition in Mullingar Hospital and she was immediately rushed to the Denis Burkitt Ward in St James' Hospital.

She said that she “had no clue” that she was sick and that she had no symptoms. “My Dad actually passed away just six weeks prior to me getting cancer so I was fatigued but I just put that down to grief.”

Ellie Mai then had to undergo a bone marrow biopsy and was informed that she had had leukemia for about six to eight months. She said she didn't feel unwell and didn't have any swollen lymph nodes. “I felt perfectly fine. I was in the middle of doing my Leaving Cert so I was going to school the whole time.”

Ellie Mai continued: “I didn't think I was sick whatsoever, just my energy levels were down but I just put that down to grief. I didn't think I was sick, I had no cramps or pains or anything.”

The doctors were confused as to how Ellie Mai had no symptoms and felt perfectly normal. Despite this, her blood and bone marrow were destroyed. “I was going around the place for eight months, I was skiing and everything full of cancer without realising,” said Ellie Mai.

The Westmeath native needed a bone marrow transplant because her type of leukemia was not curable through radiation and chemotherapy alone. Ellie Mai doesn't have any siblings so a stranger donated their bone marrow to her to aid her recovery.

She also had to endure many chemotherapy sessions and treatments before she was healthy enough to get the bone marrow transplant. “It took me nine months to get into remission because the cancer was just really strong and a lot of the treatments weren't working,” said Ellie Mai.

“There was a chemo that I was on that made me, like, partially paralysed from the legs down.” She added that it took her a few months to recover because she got neurotoxicity in her feet.

The local woman spent a lot of time in St James' Hospital in Dublin and underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy and chemo injections into her spine, for about six weeks each, over an eight-month period. Ellie Mai had to wait until November last for her bone marrow transplant. “I was on a morphine pump for over 30 days. I couldn't eat, I was getting fed through a tube,” she explained.

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a rapid growing cancer as it multiplies within days. Usually, people get diagnosed within weeks because they get viral infections and their immune system declines.

Since undergoing the bone marrow transplant, Ellie Mai is cancer free and doing well but said that she is just getting her energy back. “I still have to nap for ages and I wouldn't be able to go on a long walk. I'm still not back to perfect and it won't be for another few years I'd say but I'm definitely doing a lot better than I was.”

She added: “I wasn't even able to walk into a shop or anything for about a year just because I couldn't catch any infection because I'd no immune system so I wasn't able to meet anyone or do anything.”

Following her ordeal, Ellie Mai is looking forward to starting a PLC in Nursing Studies in Moate Business College this September which she said was influenced by her own personal experience. She was in the middle of her Leaving Cert exams last June following her diagnosis with leukemia but only had the opportunity to complete three exams before she contracted sepsis.

The former Athlone Community College student said that one of her nurses had received bone marrow transplant herself and Ellie Mai related to her because she knew what the experience was like. “I want to be able in a few years to tell another child that they're not alone and I've been through what they've been through as well.”

Ellie Mai hadn't considered a career in nursing before and said that she was originally set on teaching. She isn't currently receiving any treatment but will have to undergo four more rounds of chemotherapy into her spine.

She decided to raise money for the the Bone Marrow for Leukemia Trust as her treatment was free and to raise awareness of the cancer and the supports available. “If I didn't get a transplant I wouldn't be here talking to you today... Someone willingly went underneath the knife just to give me another chance of life.

“I just wanted to give back basically and just raise money for the Leukemia Trust fund in Dublin.”

Ellie Mai has set up a fundraising page on idonate.ie and will host a fundraising night in the Bounty Bar on July 26 at 7pm. Tickets cost €5 and all proceeds will go to the Leukemia Trust in St James' Hospital, Dublin. There will be finger food on the night and a raffle with many prizes to be won.

“I just want to raise awareness as well to let people know that if they feel a little bit off, not to ignore it because I knew myself, I did feel a bit fatigued and down,” stated Ellie Mai.

She originally set a target of €5,000 for the fundraiser but this was surpassed in just a matter of hours so the target was raised to €10,000. Elli Mai said that she was “ completely shocked” by the response. “I didn't think I'd meet the target of €5,000 within the few months and I met it within a few hours.”

“People have just been so lovely and I've got loads of text messages from other people telling me that they're actually going through a similar thing.” She said that five or six people have reached out to her and told her about their own experiences with cancer.

Ellie Mai has raised €9,275 for the Bone Marrow for Leukemia Trust to date. To donate to the fundraiser visit www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/ElliemaiMurphy1.

Ellie Mae is the daughter of Kelley and David Quigley and the late Paul Murphy from Athlone.