By Dennis Callin
Toireasa Margaret Ann Barry was born January 7, 1997. Seemingly a normal start for a very special girl. Strong-willed in a wonderful manner, Toireasa (tor-ray-zah) showed the world early that it was not going to be easy to stand in her way.
In April 2000, Tess (her nickname) broke her leg unexpectedly. During examination, Tess was diagnosed by Neuroblastomy, a cancer that attacks the nerves and bones… According to statistics, only 5% of those afflicted survive. And there were times when Tess was going to prove she was that special. From the start, Tess showed she was a fighter, and took just about everything in stride. Whatever her doctors wanted to try, if there was even the slightest chance it would help, Tess said, “Yes.”
CATS meant a lot to Tess. Julia stated that this musical and the characters inside the story helped Tess to fight the cancer. MAKE-A-WISH took Tess to see CATS when it was still on Broadway. We knew that Mr. Mistoffelees was one of her favorite characters, and that she was afraid of Macavity. Members of the CATS Forum helped by sending her e-mails and letters and even pictures and drawings. Cast members only added to the wonderful wishes.
At the end of 2001, the CATS Forum wanted to do something special for Tess and Julia. The problem first faced was the important: “What?” At first, the concept of sending Tess to one of the CATS V Tour shows appealed to many, until Julia informed us that she was not able to travel. Finally, in January of 2002, the idea came to buy them a computer system for the home. Julia had relied on store-bought computer time to update Toireasa’s website before, so the idea caught on. By January 19, 2002, the project, TOIREASA’S DREAM started, with a goal of $1500. By February 4, that goal was surpassed by gifts made by 28 CATS Forum members. On February 15, the computer system, monitor, scanner, and printer was installed, and Julia updated from home for the first time!
By the end of March, tumors began to reappear in her legs, then her skull and left eye. On March 26, the news was 1-2 weeks… Tess was not to allow this either. And then, the CATS Forum rose again, this time to sign a specially designed story by RIO. 39 signature entries went into the story where the CATS Forum members said good-bye to Toireasa in their special way. One of those was Keith Wilson, the last “Macavity” on Broadway. After his entry, Tess was able to listen to CATS without muting the “Macavity” number. On April 21, Tess was placed in a drug-induced coma to give her some rest from the pain, but Julia kept reading the many e-mails and the story to Tess. On April 23, Tess fought her way through the drugs to be with her mother.
On April 24, 2002, Tess began to lose the fight. The tumors had taken over much of her bones, and was starting to invade the marrow. Her breathing became staggered, and her blood pressure began to fall. While the video CATS played, and Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer came on, Toireasa said, “Mom,” and went to the angels waiting for her. At 4:13 p.m., Julia wrote us, “Toireasa got her wings.”
On May 1, a Celebration Mass was given to Tess at the Shrine of St. John Nuemann at the St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. On May 2, she was buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Tess may have only lived 5 years, but she was a blessing to her mother, and to anyone who ever met her. Hundreds of people, worldwide, signed her guestbook, and offered Julia their love and prayers. And all because of a musical, and the loyal fan-base, and a little girl named Toireasa...