“A mother is the very core of who you are, and everything felt different without her.”
Sasha Hamrogue was living in the US when she heard that her dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Born to an Irish mother and father, who had both moved Stateside in their younger years, Sasha and her sister had been lucky to travel the world with their parents.
Martin’s and Angela’s romance was, says Sasha, “a typical Irish immigrant story of the time.”
They met at a football game, married in Angela’s hometown of Ballina, Co Mayo, and eventually returned to the States to raise their daughters.
In 2009, Sasha visited her dad in London. She immediately noticed that something was wrong, and urged him to see a doctor.
“He was such an active, vibrant person, it was easy to spot that he wasn’t himself,” she says.
Soon afterwards, Martin was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It was a diagnosis, Sasha says, that her father didn’t want to hear.
“He was a fighter,” she says. “He just wanted to live.”
Sasha and her sister, Aisling, dropped everything to look after their father, taking him back to Ireland in 2009 to the hospice in Harold’s Cross. They were later joined by Angela who, despite being separated from Martin for some time, made the journey to be with him near the end.
“He surprised us all and lasted for a few months after my mom arrived, but she never left,” says Sasha.
“Despite the hugely tragic nature of that time and the devastation we all felt, I will always remember that time and how precious it was to see my parents back together.
“My mother really helped me get through the overwhelming period of grief after Dad died. His death impacted all our lives in so many ways.”
Five years passed, and as Sasha and Aisling began to settle into a life without their father, they were hit with more devastating news.
Sasha was visiting her mother in Connecticut when she noticed, again, that something didn’t feel right.
The pair were shopping together, something they had always loved to do, when Sasha spotted that her mother had fallen asleep on a bench outside.
“When I was leaving she hugged me and said to me: ‘Be happy honey’ and it was just something in the way she said it that made me feel like she knew something wasn’t right,” she says.
Angela was experiencing many symptoms consistent with lung cancer: a cough that wouldn’t go away, shoulder pain, and lumps on her back.
She had been afraid to go and see a doctor, but when she eventually did, she was informed that she also had stage 4 lung cancer.
She passed away just six weeks later.
“In the immediate weeks following her death I experienced an almost unconscious state of shock,” says Sasha.
“When it did come, the grief was paralysing. A mother is the very core of who you are, and everything felt different without her.
“The loss of your parents is the loss of unconditional love. Losing that is a monumental transition.”
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time for raising awareness of the symptoms of the disease and erasing the stigma that is often associated with the diagnosis.
Last week, Sasha was one of seven lung cancer family members and survivors who came together to fill a memento jar full of some of the significant moments they had either gained – or lost out on – because of the disease.
The project, run by the Marie Keating Foundation, is called Making Moments Matter – and in Sasha’s case, it “brings to life what might have been if we had more time.”
Filling her jar with moments related to her own daughter, Winona, she says that she always wonders what life would have been like if both of her parents were still here.
“Every single day I wonder what life would have been like if we had more time and if they’d had the chance to meet their granddaughter,” she says.
“I imagined telling them her name and seeing them hold her. I always thought my children would know their grandparents. My memento jar is a wish for more time.”
You can find out more about the Marie Keating Foundation’s Making Moments Matter campaign here.