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Mum, 39, with ‘zest for life’ dies of cancer so rare it affects one person in a million

A devoted husband has paid tribute to his “selfless” wife who died after being diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer.

In 2014 Gemma Muldoon, originally from Porth, was only 31-years-old when she was diagnosed with pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP).

Typically the condition starts in the appendix and spreads to other organs like the bowel, bladder and ovaries.

Affecting just one person in a million, the disease is incredibly rare, reports Wales Online.

Gemma had a full hysterectomy and underwent preventative chemotherapy, before entering into remission.

However, she was then given the crushing news that her cancer had come back, around 18 months later in August 2016.

She died aged just 39 on March 5 this year.

Gemma’s loving husband, James Muldoon, has now paid a heartfelt tribute in memory of his spouse, who he described as having “a zest for life”.

He said Gemma would be “incredibly proud” of their now 12-year-old daughter who is donating her hair and raising money for cancer charity Little Princess Trust despite her ordeal.

The 41-year-old said: “Gem had always been very maternal and through that she was very selfless.

“In life she always put her friends and family first and then when Ava was born she would always put Ava first, even when she was going through treatment. She wanted to fit that around Ava’s first day at school.

“As a couple we always put our friends and family at the centre of what we were doing. We were always very sociable, but what I and everyone loved about her the most was her selflessness.

“She always cared for others and she was always at the end of the phone whenever her friends or family needed her and she was like that all the way through her chemotherapy. She never wanted to let anyone down. She was a perfectionist and always the go to for decorating Xmas trees, interior décor advice and her ‘super nanny’ approach with children.”

James said he met Gemma in 2004 through a mutual friend before they got engaged in Rome in 2008 and married in 2009.

They lived together along with Ava at their home in Rogerstone.

Speaking of one of their first dates, he said: “On one of Gemma and I’s first dates we went to Alton Towers. We were halfway there and Gemma took a call to say one of her best friends was in labour.

“She told me to turn the car around as she needed to be there, I thought she was joking….she was deadly serious and at this point I knew how serious she took her friendships. We turned back to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital and she managed to meet Ashton, who is now 18.

“That’s the sign of the dedication she had to her friends – especially when it came to children. We managed to get to Alton Towers for a couple of hours later that day.”

Although Gemma had always wanted several children, her operation meant she was unable to have any more children after Ava.

James said: “Having Ava was really important to her and it became even more important a couple of years later when we realised she would be our only child.”

James said Gemma’s symptoms started a number of months before her diagnosis.

He explained: “She had pain in her lower abdomen and she was going for various tests and scans which came back inconclusive. They thought it was ovary related but weren’t able to get to the bottom of it. They inserted a camera in her lower abdomen to see what was going on, which would have been late January or early February (2014). She was called back then to the doctors for her diagnosis.”

James said the couple didn’t know much about the condition at this point. Since it is such a rare disease, a lot of the information was vague and they weren’t sure what it would mean for their future.

Around six weeks after her diagnosis, Gemma underwent a debulking operation at Llandough Hospital to remove as much of the cancer as possible.

Part of her bowel was removed, which meant she left hospital with a stoma – which was later reversed. There are just two centres of excellence for PMP, including one in Basingstoke in Hampshire.

In October of that year, Gemma underwent a hysterectomy to remove organs affected by the cancer. Then, between Christmas and New Year, Gemma then began preventive chemotherapy – which lasted a few months.

James said: “[Having] Christmas was really nice because you naturally assume the worst when someone goes in for their operation. After she had the operation and she had the chemotherapy, we were focussing on getting our lives on track and gaining a sense of normality. But when you are booking plans, like holidays, ‘what ifs’ are always at the back of your mind. From the outside, we did live a normal life.”

But sadly, around 18 months after her diagnosis, Gemma a scan showed that her cancer had started to redevelop.

Due to her previous and invasive operation, a second was not advised. Instead, Gemma was put on different types of chemotherapy, James said. This time, Gemma lost her hair which she found very difficult.

James said: “It was horrific as she had gone through such an ordeal from the diagnosis, to the operation, the recovery and the stoma reversal. It took the best part of 18 months for her to get her health back.

“It was devastating for her to come out of the point where she was told she was cancer free, to then to be told it’s come back. It was hard the first time but this stopped us dead in the tracks. She had already climbed a mountain and was starting to feel the benefits of being back on top to then to be told she had another mountain to climb.”

Over the next five or so years, James said Gemma’s cancer stabilised with very little change. Despite the diagnosis, he said Gemma continued to live with a “zest for life”.

“She was determined we lived our lives as normally as possible for Ava,” he said. “But behind the normality Gemma was fighting hard to be the Mum, wife, daughter, sister and friend she set out to be.”

However, in December 2021, Gemma’s health took a turn for the worst and she progressively became more unwell in the lead up to New Year 2022. Although it had been around eight years since Gemma’s first diagnosis, James said it still caught the family by surprise when she passed away on March 5 this year.

He said: “You live in hope but you always have that ‘what if’ in the back of your mind that something might change, but this caught us by surprise. We’d been through so much always with the view of coming out the other side. We didn’t realise that last Christmas was going to be our last.”

However painful it was for James to lose his wife – and the mother to his daughter – he said he was kept going by the kindness of those around him and will forever be grateful to them.

He said: “We were always ones to take a positive from a negative and the support from our friends and family around is what has kept us going during Gemma’s diagnosis and it’s what has kept us going since. The smallest gestures in bringing food over and keeping us occupied by giving us things to do and places to go has meant so much to us.”

James said Ava has also gone through the huge change of starting comprehensive school this year. Despite everything she has been through, James said she is still determined to raise money for Little Princess Trust – a decision she made when she was just seven-years-old.

After seeing her mum go through the process of losing her hair and choosing a wig, James said a young Ava told her parents that she wanted to donate her hair to the charity – which provides wigs to young people affected by cancer.

Five years on and Ava’s hair is finally long enough to be cut and donated, which she hopes to do on November 15. The family is also hoping to raise around £2,000 for the charity on JustGiving. You can view and donate to their fundraiser here.

Ava is now having her hair cut for the Prince’s Trust charity in memory of her mother

He said Gemma would be equally proud of her for helping the charity. He said: “Ava is determined and mega focused just like Gemma. She’s gone from strength to strength and the composure she’s had is unbelievable.

“It’s mesmerising to contemplate how someone of her age has that consideration for others all the time in everything she does. Despite losing her mum she has gone through with the commitment she made and it hasn’t knocked her off the rails or anything like that. I’m super proud of her and in awe of how she’s dealt with everything. Despite her being 12 she is someone I look up to.”