What’s on your bucket list? Kim Knight meets Eva McGauley, the terminally ill teenager who is devoting the rest of her life to the victims of sexual assault.

Two versions of the same event.

Eva: "They took us to this place, it was just this terrifying room. There were all these creepy hospital beds and rainbow fish hanging from the ceiling and absolutely no one. They couldn't find anyone ..."

Kate: "Eva's on a stretcher and everyone is freaking out and we go to the wrong ward. It was the old ward. They'd all moved the day before. We rocked into this ward and there was no one there. The hospital was all in bits, from the rebuild, the walls weren't lined ..."

It is February 2015, and Eva McGauley and Kate Hardwick are running on adrenalin and uncertainty. An only child and a sole parent on an air ambulance from Wellington to Christchurch. They are the centre of each other's worlds. And now that world has cancer.



Eva hits Skype with an exclamation mark. She'll be ready to talk in 10 minutes, she types. "I just have to let the dog outside for a pee ..."

When she dials in, she's propped up on pillows. In bed because she's a teenager, not because she has cancer. She's laughing, horrified at how big her boobs look on this laptop angle. In fact, it is her eyes that swallow the screen. Movie-star huge against milk-bottle pale skin. Eva McGauley is bona fide beautiful.

"Oh," she says. "So, if you saw a picture of me from this time last year, I don't think you'd recognise me. Hair gone, eyebrows gone, eyelashes gone, face huge, my droopy neck was out past my ears. And I was just very, very frail. I'd lost so much weight you could see all my bones."

When Eva was little, all her teachers said that one day, she'd be the Prime Minister.

"I was always like, 'I don't know if I want to be'. I was always like, 'there's a lot of stuff I don't think I would care about. I don't think I could be bothered ...' This sounds awful, but I'd rather be doing other stuff than that."

So, variously, she thought about being a marine biologist. A singer. An artist. An actor. Slowly, her path crystallised. Human rights. International relations. A job with the United Nations.

"I've done a lot of work with rape crisis in Wellington and Amnesty and stuff. I would always ask myself, would I rather be on the side that tries to prevent it happening in the first place, or the side that helps after it has happened? I always thought my skills would be better used trying to prevent it. And as I got older, that was always what I planned to do."

The thing she never considered: Describing her life in past tense.

When you know your days are numbered, it really makes it clear what matters to you.


In July this year, just before she turned 17, Eva launched a Givealittle fundraising page.

"I'm dying of cancer," she wrote. "When you know your days are numbered, it really makes it clear what matters to you. Sure, I could pin my hopes on meeting my favourite actress, or travelling the world. But what I really want is to make a positive difference that will still be helping people's lives after I am gone - to give more in life than that I have taken."

The project is called Eva's Wish. The goal is to raise $50,000 to assist HELP, an Auckland-based sexual abuse assistance programme, to set up an anonymous online youth counselling service.

Probably, says Eva, she would have eventually done something like this. But right now, she must live in haste.

That day in February 2015, when Eva and Kate took the air ambulance from Wellington, they were heading for the Children's Haematology Oncology Centre at Christchurch Hospital. It had just opened; so new, ambulance officers initially took the pair to the wrong ward.

Finally, says Eva, "We went through these big doors and it was just perfect. You had your own big room, and the bed for your mum, your own closet, bathroom, shower, TV. It was awesome ..."

Ask Kate to put herself back there, and she says it is about each step, each hour. The day before was her birthday. The only night that either she or Eva has spent in hospital was when Eva was born. Now she is on the phone to Eva's father in London, to friends and family in New Zealand, waiting to hear exactly what is wrong with her daughter. Lymphoma is the prime suspect.

On Waitangi Day, a team arrives to perform tests and put in a Hickman line - the catheter that gives intravenous access to Eva's body.

Two versions of the same event.

Kate: "They finally got us into a meeting to say it's not a lymphoma, it's nasopharyngeal cancer and it's extremely advanced and it's extremely fast-growing and there were secondaries in her lymph nodes which is why people thought it was glandular fever, and why they thought it was lymphoma, but it wasn't. The actual cancer was in her face."

Eva: "It was nasopharynx. And secondary tumours were in my neck. They've now meta-stasised to a lymph node in my chest and a lymph node in my hip. We've got rid of it from my chest. The hip is growing slowly."

It doesn't matter how many ways you tell this story, the outcome is the same. Can you imagine if this was you?

"I can't even," says Kate, 47. "Even I can't. I know that sounds bizarre, but it's just a work in progress. Believe me."

Nasopharyngeal cancer affects the upper throat, just behind the nose. It is relatively rare in New Zealand. According to the most recently available Ministry of Health statistics, in 2013 just 17 cases were identified nationally, and only five of those patients were women.

Eva's diagnosis came late. She had been feeling unwell since her 15th birthday, halfway through Year 10, her first NCEA year at Wellington High School. Blood tests had revealed the presence of the Epstein Barr virus, associated with glandular fever. She saw a specialist, but no scan was ordered and the cancer grew, undetected. When she reported her nose was sore, the specialist told her she had a low pain threshold.

"Right before I went into hospital, I wasn't able to get out of bed anymore or do anything really. I went back down to my GP, I thought maybe a sinus infection had come on. She took one look at it, and said 'you need to be in hospital.'"

Eva gets to try drugs for the first time. She's dosed up on Tramadol, an opioid painkiller and she's floating. "I just remember going in and out of the room, it was so bizarre. Every so often someone would talk and I wouldn't be able to hear them, and I could see their mouth moving, and they would zoom away in my vision."

Six rounds of chemotherapy. Six weeks of intense and complicated radiation therapy to her face and neck. Five months in that ward in Christchurch.

"The only time I thought 'oh, maybe it would be easier if I did just die right now' - even if I didn't want that, I just thought maybe it would be easier - was when the lining of my mouth, and all through my oesophagus, my stomach - what are they, those little things?"

Eva draws squiggles in the air, and frowns. Intestines?

"Thank you! Intestines. All the lining had come off, so it was just bleeding all through them and then I got something called mucositis, so it was ulcers on top of the bleeding. It was just 10 out of 10 pain. It was worse than childbirth stuff. Well, according to the doctors. I don't know, I've never experienced childbirth."

She couldn't eat, drink, move or sleep.

"And for about 24 hours there, I just stayed very still. And I think then, yeah, I thought it would be easier. But I never wanted it to happen. I just thought it would be easier. I do remember saying to one nurse, 'I give up'. And her saying 'no you don't' and me going, 'you're right. I don't'."

And anybody who knows Eva McGauley even just a little bit would not be surprised to hear that.

She is the daughter of Kate and Pat. The former a chef, the latter a one-time bassist with Dublin-based band The Dudley Corporation (that's Eva as a pencil-sketched toddler in a hooded dressing gown on the cover of the band's second LP). Her parents separated when she was a baby. In Wellington, she has been raised by her mum, her godfather Dec, her grandmother Gams and her great-aunt Yarby.

"All four of them are really strong-willed," says Eva. "They have a lot of political views. Quite differing ones! It's been good to have a spectrum to choose where I wanted to be."

She shifts her laptop and a pinboard comes into view. "I remember being in tears when Helen Clark lost. I've got a picture of her, signed, next to my bed. Somebody gave it to me when I was in hospital."

Eva was a member of the Wellington City Council's Youth Council for three years. She was just 8 years old when she signed up to receive material from Emily's List, the US-based feminist political action committee that backed Hillary Clinton in the recent election. At 13, she marched against rape culture and the Roast Busters group - older teenage boys who were allegedly sexually targeting drunk and underage females. At 14, she joined Wellington Rape Crisis "by accident".

"It was my first year of high school and some friends and I went to the school's young feminist club. We were like 'oh my God, this is such an amazing feeling'. Ironically, we couldn't focus through class, because we were so mind-blown."

It was the end of the term and she couldn't wait three weeks for another meeting.

"They said there was this cupcake baking evening on. I just thought it was like a feminist cupcake baking thing ... I thought I was paying to get into the building, but I was paying to become a Rape Crisis member."

She duly attended the AGM and became an active volunteer.

"I helped them update their services to be more youth-orientated on their website and stuff, and we made a high school supporters group."

Eva's Wish is a direct result, she says, of knowing a staggering number of friends and peers who have dealt with sexual assault.

"I think it's very prevalent, and I don't think it's talked about much. I always say it's like a 'toxic silence'. I didn't come up with that phrase, but it's a good one."

In November last year, for a few short, sweet weeks, Eva was in remission. "Then, three weeks later, to the day, they told me, actually, I was dying."

Eva's Wish was born of that news.

"I think I really decided when they said it was terminal. People kept asking me what my bucket list was, and I kept going, 'I don't know.' I just found it really annoying all the time to be asked."

Blink. Swallow hard. Because teenagers are supposed to be thinking about what they want to do when they grow up, not what they want to do before they die. Rage against the unfairness - or do something to make it mean something.

"In the end, I decided I wanted to help as many people as possible. Like, to do what I always planned to do. But just really fast."

Disneyland? Selfies with Bellamy Young, aka Scandal's Mellie Grant and Eva's all-time favourite actor? "Sure, there are lots of people I'd like to meet, and places I'd like to go, but yeah - this would be the top of the list."

In a video for the Eva's Wish campaign (that has raised $35,500 across the Givealittle page and other ventures) its founder cites the statistics - and makes it personal.

"One in three girls in New Zealand will be sexually abused; one in seven boys. I'm not okay with that. Are you? More of my friends have been sexually assaulted than not, and they had no one to turn to. My dying wish for New Zealand is for an online space for young people. Where we can go when the worst happens to us, and talk to trained counsellors who can help us."

Over Skype, she tells Canvas the Roast Busters case would not have surprised many teenagers.

"It's awful. You know it's there, but you just sort of treat it as normal. Not like normal is a good thing, but it's not a strange thing when it happens, because it just happens so often."

Yes, she says, she's had to push someone off her at a concert. Yes, she says, it's confusing when the perpetrator is someone your own age.

"It's really important, right from a young age, this whole idea of 'no means no'. Just teaching kids to respect each other is big. Honestly, teaching someone to respect other people, teaching them to be kind, seems to be the key."

Eva is receiving T-cell therapy for her cancer - a new treatment where immune cells are removed from patients, tagged with molecules that target specific cancers, and then reintroduced into the patient's body. International clinical trials on people with specific blood cancers have shown success.

"Where am I now? I'm feeling better than I have in the last two years. Much less pain."

At night, a machine pumps food into a port in her stomach. Radiation has locked her jaw and she can't open her mouth more than a centimetre. She makes no saliva, and her left eye weeps - more side effects. She understands her diagnosis is terminal.

"You can either do nothing and be really despairing and wait for it to happen, or you can just keep doing what you're doing."

She had been desperate to go back to school. "But I spent just one day there, and was like, 'I'm so not meant to be here.' Listening to all the gossip and the ridiculous crap ... how does any of this matter?"

Now, she interns for the Green Party. She has her own desk and has spent her time there developing a business plan for the counselling service she says could be modelled on one that has been running in the US (via RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) since 2008.

"I believe in other people, and I believe in myself," she says. "It's going to work."

Her best friend is Anya Bukholt-Payne. Next year, she will skip Year 13 to work alongside Eva at the Green Party offices. The 16-year-old says it's difficult to accept they might not get to do everything they had planned: a shared flat, crazy holidays.

"Facing Eva's diagnosis has been harder than words can describe. It's taught me not to take things for granted, and to prioritise the things I love. Her story shows you don't need to grow up before you start changing the world. In order to achieve her life goals, she's been forced to start them now. Her voice is just as powerful as any adult's and, as she is constantly reminding me, so is mine."

Last year, Anya and three friends shaved their heads in solidarity. "It definitely made us closer with each other and Eva. Like a mark we were all going through this together."

The pair are hoping to travel to Christchurch together later this summer. "We are making the most of our time together. As hard as it will be, I wouldn't change our friendship for the world."

She is Eva because her dad didn't want a name that could be shortened, and because her mum wanted a name that would sound just as good for a baby as an 80-year-old.

Kate describes herself as a "pretty sensible person. I take life as it comes. I wouldn't say I'm a great ideologue". But this has changed her. "It's very hard to say into what, but yes, it has."

Kate and Eva don't talk time frames. During those five months in Christchurch she says: "I didn't really let myself go there".

And now? "Now I do. Occasionally I have to. Well, because the doctor's have said Eva's treatment from here on in is palliative, that she isn't going to recover. So yeah, I take it in little bites.

"We've had a lot of support from staff at the hospital and great friends and family. But I mean, mostly, you just have to breathe through it. Just breathe. Try not to panic. That's like my constant state, either well-controlled, or not so well controlled levels of panic."

This Christmas, like every Christmas, there will be Champagne and panettone in the morning and a huge dinner cooked by Kate. Eva is super-excited. "It's my favourite time of the year. I love, love, love it."

Eva thinks she has the easier end of this terrible deal; hates that her family have been put through this. Sometimes, she considers the "what if's". Of course, she says, she wouldn't want cancer. "Are you kidding me?"

But, also: "I like who I am better now. I like the work I'm doing. It's very precious and important to me and it would be amazing if I could continue doing this.

"If I had to choose between going back a few years and starting from then again, or just being cured magically, miracally now, and I could keep on going, I think I would choose now. I don't know. I'm pretty sure I would choose now."

Make a donation to Eva's Wish.