Diagnosed with a spinal tumor at a young age, Aoife Moggan has turned to creativity as a source of strength and expression. In this interview, Aoife discusses her journey through cancer, the importance of advocacy, and the ways art has helped her find purpose. You’ll be inspired by her resilience, her passion for helping others, and her zest for life.

young spinal tumor survivor

What is your name?

Aoife Moggan.

How old are you?


Where are you from?

Co. Meath, Ireland.

What’s your diagnosis?

Spinal Astrocytoma

young cancer survivor with spinal tumor

How and when did you find out about your diagnosis?

My symptoms first presented themselves in the form of back pain at the age of 12. I was extremely sporty so initially the pain was diagnosed as an injury and then ‘growing pains’. However, it persisted and intensified for more than a year. My parents brought me to all types of medical professionals both traditional and alternative and eventually after an MRI the tumour was detected.

I was told I had cancer once the doctor’s suspicions were confirmed upon performing their first resection of the tumour. In extracts from my diary at the time I know that on the day I was told “I was sort of scared, sad and worried” and felt “having cancer is going to be so weird. I’m going to find it hard to tell my friends, I don’t know how I’m going to react or how they’re going to react. At the moment it’s like a big rock in my stomach, I can’t believe it”.

What the journey through cancer taught you?

I got onboard the cancer train 25 years ago now (not voluntarily!) so I like to think that I’ve learned a lot along the way. However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned has been how resilient I am. Learning this at a young age stood to me throughout my life as I was able to draw on this strength time and time again when life would inevitably throw challenges my way.

This journey has also taught me that the human body is capable of unbelievable things, both good and bad. It has an amazing ability to heal and another to hurt, sometimes all happening within the space of the same day.

What helped you the most during the treatment process?

The steadfast support of my family and friends. As I mentioned above I was 13 when I was first hospitalised. A stage where your hormones are going haywire, your body is doing things it never did before and your relationships take on a different role in your life (so pretty similar to an AYA cancer experience I suppose so unfortunately you’re getting twice the fun!).

young spinal tumor cancer survivor

So I was very lucky because my friends really showed up for me. They walked alongside me throughout it all and like my family they still do so to this day. I know it is a great privilege to have that safety net of support beneath you when going out into the world and it’s not something I take for granted.

On a more practical level being creative helped me during treatment as in the absence of any professional psychosocial care being available, it allowed me to express myself. It also helped me to explore a developing sense of self as I came to terms with my ‘new normal’ as well as bringing an element of individuality into the sterile surroundings of the hospital environment.


What has changed in your life since your cancer diagnosis?

Given that I have now spent almost twice as many years post-diagnosis as opposed to pre-diagnosis a great many things have changed! In the early days my identity and the way I viewed myself was certainly challenged and I believe this is one of the changes that had the biggest impact on me . I had identified myself as the ‘sporty’ one for so long and needed to work through the loss of this version of myself, the Aoife that could run, jump and simply move with ease. However, once I accepted that that was no longer going to be an option I began to explore new avenues within myself such as writing, photography and art until this became an area that brought me joy, sanctuary and support.

One of the many positive changes that have occurred since diagnosis has been my introduction to the world of advocacy! My creative work actually helped me to fall into this serendipitously and during my first meeting I heard about late effects for the first time and so much fell into place for me straight away. This immediately lit a fire in my belly. I have learned so much on this advocacy journey but have so much yet to do, people to meet, barriers to break, services improved and so much more!

If you were to meet yourself the day you heard a diagnosis, what would you say to your younger self?

I would tell her that yes, there is a tough road ahead, it’s not gonna be an easy ride but I’d remind her of her resilience and ask that she trust in that and in herself. I’d also remind her that it’s not her responsibility to manage the experiences and emotions of those around her. Finally I’d remind her that she has a strong mind so step into that and advocate for herself as daunting as that may seem as a nervous 13 year old in a sea of intimidating HCPs.

What would you like to accomplish within EU-CAYAS-NET?

As an advocate of nearly a decade and having navigated my way through the medical system for twice that there has been an issue repeatedly brought to the table throughout that time in many different forums. Patients, survivors, parents, HCPs alike have shouted from rooftops, hospital beds, focus groups, zooms and panel discussions that there is a lack of psychosocial support for those both undergoing treatment and in follow-up care.

Highlighting these issues has been a mission of EU-CAYAS-NET and one I’ve been proud to be a part of and look forward to continuing the work to help disseminate the important information we have collated.

spinal tumor survivor

Try to describe yourself in 3 sentences

I’m Empathetic.

I’m Creative.

I have a desire to connect with those I love and build new connections with others around me.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to spend time with my family and friends. I love eating out, exploring new places, meeting new people. I also love going to the movies. Sitting in the cinema eating a movie salad (popcorn and galaxy minstrels) is one of my happy places! I also like art and musical theatre. I spend a lot of my free time on walks, coffee in hand, podcasts playing in my ears while taking in the world around me.

What do you need/want to have a crash course in?


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Comparison is the thief of joy.