Eva McGauley: Teen with terminal cancer continues to inspire

A Kiwi teen who is inspiring people around the world as she battles terminal cancer has begun university studies.

Eva McGauley, 18, this month started a Bachelor of Arts majoring in political science at Wellington’s Victoria University.

It is the latest milestone in the inspirational teen’s life – who while undergoing treatment has previously raised $65,000 for initiatives to combat sexual violence and supporting those impacted by it.

“I’m loving it,” McGauley said of Victoria University. “I’m feeling very lucky that they let me in. I didn’t do any NCEA. I only did 10 years of school and then I got sick.”

At 15 she was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer – a rare type of head and neck cancer.

She had intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy and was told initially she was in remission. But she learned the cancer had spread to her hip and a lymph node in her chest and the disease was terminal.

McGauley said it had been really hard giving up school because of her illness, and was delighted to be at Victoria University.

She had chosen her major because she had long had an interest in politics. “I want to help people.”

McGauley is hitting the study books shortly after returning from a treasured holiday to her father’s home town in Ireland, and to the United States where she attended an exhibition in New York as one of the subjects of the book 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World.

The book profiles influential women including conservationist Jane Goodall and author Margaret Atwood.

During her US visit McGauley was invited to meet feminist icon Gloria Steinem at her New York home. They talked for a couple of hours.

“It was one of those conversations where you come away feeling a lot of hope for the world. It left [me] feeling very empowered and happy and hopeful.”

From there she travelled to meet family in London and Wicklow, south of Dublin, where her dad grew up.

“I hadn’t seen my grandmother in 12 years or my grandfather. It was amazing,” she said.

“I got to meet all of my little cousins. You know when you have a older relative that you’ve heard lots about and that you really love and that you’re kind of enamoured with – they were all kind of like that with me.”

During her three-week holiday with her mother, however, she begain to feel pain.

Tests when she returned showed tumours had formed on the right side of her torso.

“I had to have radiation to the area that the tumours were. Luckily they have shrunk.”

She spent a week in hospital and three weeks in a hospice to recover, and is now back home and pain-free.

Since being diagnosed with cancer, McGauley has both bravely fought the disease while also using her time to make make a difference.

She set up the charity Eva’s Wish with the aim of stopping sexual violence and supporting survivors, and raised money for sexual abuse assistance foundation HELP Auckland.

Earlier this year Safe to Talk, the Government-run sexual harm helpline she helped create, was launched.

The service, which provides information and contacts with trained specialists, can be accessed by phone, text, email and online chat.

McGauley said she draws strength to keep going by doing “the things that I really love and enjoy”.

“[And] what’s the alternative? Locking yourself away and just being sad, that’s never been an option for me.”

She feels like she has been given a second chance, which she is relishing.

“I have a thing at the end of every day, where I go through the day and… think of all the little things, just anything that made me happy.

“I just appreciate every single one.”

McGauley, who knows how “very, very precious” life is, said she did not think being diagnosed with terminal cancer “has ever sunk in, and I’m not sure it ever will … it doesn’t feel real”.

“[But] I’ll just say any time frames I’ve had, I have outlived.”

As well as studying and enjoying the company of family and friends, McGauley said she would continue fighting for women’s rights and survivors’ rights in New Zealand.

“I want to keep doing as much as I can to make this country safer.”

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