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Holly's hell Holly Carpenter reveals dad's cancer diagnosis as she asks public to support Daffodil Day

"When you hear the C word everything else just disappears," says the social media influencer as she recalls the exact moment that her parents broke the devastating news. "I immediately went to the worst case scenario and thought, 'is dad dying?'"

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The pair are best pals

The pair are best pals

The pair are best pals

Last year while the country locked down in a bid to stave off the pandemic, Holly Carpenter and her family were waging their own personal battle, in silence.

Like so many other families, cancer had crept insidiously into their lives - silent, deadly, when the former Miss Ireland's dad, Karl, was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, myelodysplastic syndrome.

Now, for the first time, the 29-year-old has broken her silence in an emotionally charged interview to raise vital funds for the Irish Cancer Society on a Daffodil Day like no other.

"When you hear the C word everything else just disappears," says the social media influencer as she recalls the exact moment that her parents broke the devastating news. "I immediately went to the worst case scenario and thought, 'is dad dying?'"

"I remember I was on my phone and my mum just said, 'can you put down your phone? Your dad just wants to talk to you about something.'

"I think I knew there was something wrong but it was easier to be in denial because you just don't want to imagine that something could be wrong with your parents."

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Holly Carpenter

Holly Carpenter

Holly Carpenter

Noticing a progressive decline in her fun-loving dad, Holly explains: "He kept having to take naps and he was starting to look really thin. He went for a test, without telling my brother Ben and I because he wanted to protect us.

"He reassured us that they had caught it early and it was going to be fine, but I think he was nervous to tell us too because he was afraid of scaring his kids."

The family was still digesting the news when the threat of coronavirus exploded worldwide.

"We were told that it was a very rare form of cancer and the doctors told us that his immune system would be very low so he would be prone to catching colds, and then the next thing we knew we were in a pandemic," she continues.

"We couldn't touch anything without using hand sanitiser and we had to wear masks. It was terrifying.

"I had moved out at that point and he cocooned for the first lockdown. I'm so glad that he took it so seriously. I think in a way the pandemic forced him to take better care of himself than he ever did before."

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Holly with her rescue dog Max

Holly with her rescue dog Max

Holly with her rescue dog Max

Deciding to stay out the rest of the pandemic in France, where they spent part of the year, Holly said goodbye to her mum and dad last June.

Ten months on, the Dublin-based businesswoman has one simple wish - to embrace her parents again.

Close to tears, she admits: "I said I wouldn't get upset, but Christmas was really hard. Not seeing my parents and my dad for this long is really hard.

"Christmas didn't happen because I was working out that we would need to be in three different airports before we got to dad.

"My mam was already baking and preparing for Christmas dinner so it was devastating when we made the call. But it wasn't a normal Christmas for so many people and we had to keep my dad safe."

The loss of time with her parents is compounded by people who have flagrantly disobeyed restrictions.

"We were thinking we could do Christmas dinner in March and now it is just getting longer and longer," she says. "I don't want to be a curtain-twitcher but when I saw people flying to Dubai and going to cool parties and then just coming home ... I have made so many sacrifices, my friends have made so many sacrifices and you're flying off on a sun holiday?

"I don't blame them - I more so blame the fact that option was available. I did find myself getting into that toxic headspace judging what other people were doing. Now I just mute people and focus on myself."

Social media, while contentious, has also been a balm to the Raheny native during this emotionally fraught time.

Until now, however, she was reluctant to share her heartbreak online.

"I am really honest with my followers and in a way Instagram has helped me through this because I put on my [phone's] ring light and put on a brave face and that helped me get through," tells Holly. "But really, I was leading a double life.

"The reason I didn't share it online is because, while I am in the public eye, my parents and brother's business isn't mine to share, and I felt like people were enduring so much.

"Other people weren't seeing their parents because they were in different counties or were high risk. I just felt like it wasn't appropriate for me to come on and get upset, but in a way now I feel like I probably should have.

"Now I think it is the right time to talk about it because so many charities have been hit and this might encourage people to make a donation and to really get behind Daffodil Day.

"My dad is so lucky because he has my mum and a great doctor and I think of people who are going through treatment alone and it is heart-breaking.

"Now he is stable, he has got medication and he is being monitored. It is just something he is always going to have to monitor, and thankfully he is coming back to himself."

Speaking of their father-daughter bond, Holly also draws strength from happier times: "Me and my dad have always been really close. We are very alike -he is not shy at all!

"He is a real character and is an entertainer so it was really scary to see someone who was so full of energy being so drained and unwell. He said if he could help people feel like they are not on their own and spread awareness then I had to share his story."

A year on from her dad's diagnosis, today everything has changed for Holly.

"When I was sitting around the Christmas table with my parents and brother in 2019, none of us could have anticipated what was going to happen," she adds. "It really has put things into perspective and made me appreciate family time.

"It has taught me to enjoy life at a slower pace. I think I was on autopilot and I realise now you can't live at that mad pace.

"You also don't have to focus on material things. I used to worry about what I was going to wear to different events and spend so much on clothes and now I think, why did I care so much?"

Having previously spoken about her own mental health struggles, meanwhile, Holly - who created accessories brand LoveLift - wants others to think before they type.

"People can be very judgemental and I've seen things where people have said that I'm a bit 'up myself'.

"Even when I was doing Dancing with the Stars, there was a bit of slagging on Twitter because of my reaction when I got booted off - but I just have an open face and I was obviously disappointed.

"I am turning 30 this year and I have been through enough: Miss Ireland, Britain's Next Top Model and modelling.

"My weight has fluctuated, my skin has been good and bad and I have had really critical remarks online, and even though I wish I didn't have all that it has actually given me thicker skin.

"Having said that, during lockdown people really aren't feeling that confident ... criticism still hurts my feelings."

As to why she's opening up now, Holly admits: "I have kept something like this to myself for a year and it has made me realise not to judge other people because you do not know what is going on in their lives.

"All I care about now is making my dad proud and hopefully making even a tiny difference."

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