The postcards, the vast majority of which were sent by members of the Slovakian diaspora from all five continents, were in response to a request made by a Slovak TV show (similar to ‘Surprise Surprise’ which ran for so many years in Britain), urging Slovaks to send their best wishes to Samuel.
And my goodness, how that call was answered, adding much joy and levity to what would ultimately prove the final weeks of this young boy’s life.
Early on Sunday, October 12th, aged just seven, Samuel’s lengthy battle with neuroblastoma – a rare childhood cancer which he was diagnosed with aged two and a half – came to an end.
He died in the company of his parents, Anna and Brian, in his own bed in Farmleigh, a bed that was so regularly usurped by one that illness forced him to occupy in Crumlin.
“It was 10 minutes past six, exactly,” said Anna of that saddest of moments in a parent’s life, while daughter Julia watched television in the sitting room.
“We knew that he was dying and we wanted him to be here. Home was Samuel’s happiest comfort, he hated hospitals, and that’s why we decided to keep him at home.”
At the end of August, after Samuel and his family had returned home from a holiday, his oncologist recommended another bout of chemotherapy, which he undertook.
This news came almost 12 months to the day after Samuel’s parents had been told that he might have only a couple of weeks to live.
“You could say we got an extra year with him,” said Anna, whose composure and dignity in the face of such a devastating loss spoke volumes for her strength and sense of purpose which manifested itself in her duty of care to her son throughout his illness.
“Believe me, if crying each day could bring Samuel back, I would be crying from morning to evening,” she added.
“Samuel had IV chemo and oral chemo for six months in Crumlin and then he continued with oral chemo at home, which was the last treatment that could be given to him.
“But he was full of life despite all of this – if you did not know what his illness was or that he even had an illness – you would not have known he was so sick – his hair didn’t fall out in the past year either.”
Anna admitted: “Samuel never actually knew what was wrong with him. He did not know that he was dying. And our decision not to tell him, I believe, was a good thing. The oncology started when he was four. Of course he had many questions, but I always tried to put things in a way that he would best understand.
“I told him that he was very sick and we kept telling him that we were treating his sickness as best he could. He was a long, long time in hospital and he was such a young boy; of course it would have been different had he been older, but he was a young boy; to try and explain just how ill he was, I just don’t think it would have helped him at all.
“And he was speaking to us for as long as he could on the night he died, right up to two o’clock that morning – he never gave up.
“The last thought he shared with us was about Julia, who was not at home with us that night, as we’d felt that Samuel’s time was very short, so she stayed with my siblings.
“And at two o’clock that morning, he told us he could hear the ice cream van coming and he said ‘Daddy, can you give me two coins for the ice cream van so that I can get one ice cream for Julia and one for me’. It was wonderful – even then he was thinking of his sister.”
Anna said she was happy that she could care for her child, and was particularly happy that she was strong enough to provide the care which Samuel needed. And support came from some unlikely sources, such as parents of children in Samuel’s junior infants’ class at Faithlegg NS.
“That really surprised me. It was a huge shock. Those parents didn’t know us. Added to that, we are foreigners so we were not expecting people native to this area to be so brilliant towards Samuel (who suffered a further health setback just weeks after beginning school).
“And since that (fundraiser in Faithlegg House) two years ago, we have made some very good friends. Wonderful friends.
“The school ‘Mammies’ have been brilliant, and one of them, Yvette Davis, was here for a week with me, it was the week before Samuel died – all day, every day, non-stop, helping me. You don’t expect that sort of support from someone you’ve only known for three years. That’s incredible.”
As for coming to terms with the loss of her boy, Anna stated: “I am relieved that Samuel is no longer suffering. Of course I am not happy that he has gone, but to know he is not suffering anymore, because I saw how much my child suffered.”
Next week: Anna speaks about how Slovakian TV ensured Samuel enjoyed a wonderful Christmas in Waterford just weeks before he passed away, and more on those thousands of fantastic postcards.