Robyn Smyth’s devoted mother has revealed she always hoped there would be a cure one day for the brave teenager who lived the majority of her life with a rare cancer.
ernadette Dornan said that Robyn, who died on April 23, was her life, and she hopes to set up a programme that will help other cancer patients.
From Whitehall in Dublin, the 15-year-old captured the heart of the nation with her determination during her 12 years of living with the aggressive neuroblastoma.
She was diagnosed with the disease when she was only three, on September 10, 2007.
The third-year secondary school student died at home surrounded by her family.
They have so many memories, both treasured and painful, of Robyn’s too-short life.
“I remember lifting my little girl off the grass in a nearby park after playing when she had just turned three as she was just exhausted,” Bernadette said.
“Terror filled me as I knew there was something really wrong as tiredness was taking over her life for weeks.
“Another bad time was when Robyn was told that her cancer had come back following a period of remission.
“I remember her climbing under a hospital bed and screaming, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’
“But then there are so many treasured and really funny stories from her illness.
“We were in one of the American hospitals and I remember trying to turn off the air conditioning.
“Well, parts of it collapsed on me as I stood trying to move the flaps on it, which were on a wall. All Robyn could do was laugh and laugh.”
Bernadette and close friend Martina, who supported the family through numerous hospital appointments, treatments in Dublin and all over the US, said the “great fighter” has made them stronger as individuals.
Robyn’s aunts took over flying to the US when Martina could not.
“Robyn made me forget all my worries when she became sick. My entire focus was on her. All the things we give out about daily just left me – for the better,” said Bernadette.
“Robyn was my life – she made me move and gave me purpose. She knew her own mind and how her personality worked.
“She definitely didn’t care that she was different and she showed her sarcasm at all the right times. Robyn didn’t say she loved you often, but when she did, you just knew she meant it.
“Our fighter would put her head on your shoulder and, as a result, you knew she was telling you that she loved you so much.
“She was such a truthful girl and wouldn’t hug everyone. Robyn didn’t like something just because everyone else did. She refused to follow trends.
“Her shyness was so endearing. In so many ways she was more grown-up than her years, but she wasn’t street smart. Her whole being and voice would fill the house.
“Robyn didn’t let herself be all about cancer. She didn’t want to hear about it when she left the hospital – she left it behind.”
For four years, Robyn went into remission, at around the time she started school.
She went on family holidays, was a flower girl at the wedding of one of her aunts, went swimming and learned to bake with Martina – normal, everyday things.
Bernadette said that if Robyn had not become ill, she probably would one day have been a mum-of-four as she loved children.
She is so thankful that Robyn and her younger sister Millie had each other for eight years.
Robyn could not wait for Millie to arrive when her mother became pregnant.
Drawing was what Robyn adored. Bright colours brought joy to her, together with carnivals, Ferris wheels, waltzers, pantos, musicals and creating Nando’s Thursday after her favourite restaurant.
She also loved her holidays in the sun whenever the family could get away.
Donabate beach was her ideal place to collect stones, take them home and paint them.
Martina said Robyn taught her to become a stronger person.
“To see what she went through for so long and how she handled everything that was thrown at her medically and at such a young age made me stronger,” she said.
“Robyn also showed me how to smile and laugh. She would never sit under her battles – she fought. So that also showed me how to be calm, I have to admit. I miss her like there’s no tomorrow.”
Robyn’s funeral mass was held on April 25, with hundreds standing in silence and holding balloons while adhering to social distancing along the short route from her home to Whitehall Church.
The cortege was led by a lone piper.
Robyn’s school friends lined parts of the journey as scores of bikers led her to Dardistown Crematorium.
Her ashes are now at home with Bernadette, Millie, who misses her big sister dreadfully, and dad, Leighton.
Bernadette, who was by Robyn’s side every second of her treatment journey, would love the public to keep donating to Robyn’s Life Trust fund so that further research into neuroblastoma can take place.
“Just because Robyn isn’t with us here physically doesn’t mean I’m going to stop fighting her cause of finding a cure for neuroblastoma and wanting to help other children with this horrific disease,” she said.
“There’s no centre of excellence or research facility here in Ireland for this cancer. In time, we hope to set up, with the help of the public and their donations, a programme that will help other sufferers.
“We as a family are so thankful to everyone who helped us throughout the years -everything the public did for us meant and means so, so much.
“Throughout her life, Robyn just wanted to live. When we were told five years ago by the doctors in Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin that they could do no more for her, I just couldn’t let that happen.”
When her chances of survival dropped to 5pc five years ago and her family were told by Irish doctors to take her home to die, they decided to fundraise to take her to the US for the first time.
“Saying thank you to everyone through our battle just doesn’t seem enough. The amount of help and support we received over the years was overwhelming at times,” said Bernadette.
“All the medical staff here and in the US were wonderful to Robyn and the entire family. We made a lot of friends along the way and are thankful for everyone who helped Robyn and us on our journey.
“An American lady called Sheri, who we randomly met in a mall in Michigan, was so good to Robyn, Martina and I every time we had to go to the US for treatment.
“She just knew how to put us all at our ease and Robyn adored her.”
Despite having to endure more than 100 gruelling trips to the US over the years for treatment, Bernadette said it was a special time.
“It was just ‘us time’, Robyn, Martina and I. It was like having space away from the cancer fight in Ireland. It was like being in a bubble where no one could touch us,” she said.
A tree in Ellenfield Park in north Dublin has been decorated with photos, messages, glass ornaments and a porcelain angel in honour of Robyn.
A memorial to celebrate her life will be held at a later date.
Donations can be made to Robyn’s Life Trust through robynslife.com