Eva's adventure continues via book aimed at children undergoing cancer treatment
Little Eva Tomney was just seven years old when she died from cancer. Jenny Lee talks to her aunt Tracy Hughes who is helping keep her legacy alive through a book she has written to help other children facing their own fight against the disease
EVA Meets Dr Mac is a delightful and informative picture book story to help children journey sensitively through the difficult subject of cancer.
It is inspired by the real-life journey of Keady, Co Armagh, girl Eva Tomney, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged just three-and-a-half after complaining of a sore neck and loss of balance.
Eva went through a gruelling 12-hour operation in October 2012 to remove the tumour, followed by nine months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and two stem cell transplants.
Although she improved initially, the tumour spread to her spine and Eva became confined to a wheelchair. Despite her difficulties, Eva never complained. She continued to appreciate nature and animals and loved nothing more than being with her older brother Paddy, who adored her.
Her sudden death in November 2015 was a huge shock to her family and everyone who knew her.
Eva Meets Dr Mac is the brainchild of Eva's aunt Tracy Hughes, who helped raise Eva, and her now 10-year-old brother.
Tracy, a business studies teacher at St Patrick's Academy Dungannon, first wrote about her niece's battle with cancer in a school enterprise project back in 2015 after Eva started loosing her hair and asked her aunt to put it back in her head.
"Eva was a really bubbly, charismatic character," Tracy says. "She was quirky, mischievous and an atypical, outgoing wee girl. She had an innocent childlike understanding of what was happening her body.”
Tracy replied to Eva’s request by making up a story about her hair going on an adventure and at the end returning to the child.
"I remember on the Sunday morning my mum showing her photos of other boys and girls across the world with no hair on the computer as I brushed 90 per cent of her hair out of her head," she recalls. "Behind our smiles our hearts were breaking at the realisation of Eva's cancer.”
Unable to find a fictional children’s book about hair loss or cancer, Tracy turned her heartache into creativity. The Adventures Of Eva's Hair was one of three books written and published by Tracy and her students as part of a Young Enterprise Company project, which went on to win awards for the best product in the UK and Ireland.
The enterprise made a profit of £10,000, which was divided among three charities, iCare, which provided Eva with an adaptive bicycle and bed, FlemingFulton School in Belfast which she attended after being confined to a wheelchair, and the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children.
Sadly Tracy never got to share it with her niece, as Eva's condition had drastically deteriorated.
"I was keeping the book to give her as a Christmas present, but ironically on the day the book was printed, December 3, Eva was buried,” she recalls emotionally.
As these students moved on to third level education and these small books went out of publication, Tracy and her family “felt Eva's work on Earth wasn't done,” and set about publishing a professional-quality children’s picture book.
"What made Eva's worst days bright was a smuddle – basically a special kiss and a cuddle. We wanted to bring Eva's smuddle back to life and give everyone a cuddle,” explains Tracy.
"Cancer is devastating, but you never realise how devastating until it is staring you in the face. When she was diagnosed, we never considered she would be leaving us.
“Having been on this side of Eva's journey, we know the struggles families go through. We want her legacy to help others."
Eva Meets Dr Mac, a beautifully illustrated book in which young Eva journey’s adventurously and courageously, is aimed at helping children to understand the world of scans and chemotherapy, while highlighting the power of sibling love.
Five per cent of proceeds from the sales of the book will be shared between the iCare charity and Make-A-Wish Foundation, which took Eva and her brother on a trip to Disneyland Paris in April 2014.
Tracy plans to write more informative and imaginative children’s books on medical issues, such as hair loss and being in a wheelchair. And on the accompanying website Eva’s family will be writing a blog to help support and heal other families, while children can download free illustrations to colour.
This summer they will launch their own charity, Caring Adventures, where they will use proceeds from an annual run in Keady, together with fundraising the family did before Eva’s death, to support other children with life-limiting conditions and to enhance the lives of all children in their local community.
"Eva appreciated the simple things in life and had great compassion for animals and people and we feel Eva's spirit is very much alive in what we are doing,” adds Tracy.
:: Eva Meets Dr Mac is available to purchase now on Evasadventures.com