Eva McGauley was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Raised in a strongly feminist environment, McGauley became a member of the Wellington Rape Crisis centre at the age of thirteen. In 2015, at age fifteen, she was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which was subsequently confirmed to be terminal, and has undergone several treatments of chemotherapy and radiation. McGauley is dedicated to supporting young victims of sexual violence, having several friends who are survivors of sexual assault. She is also an intern for New Zealand’s Green Party.

Eva McGauley (Photograph: Kieran E Scott)

Eva McGauley (Photograph: Kieran E Scott)

Q. What really matters to you?

My family. I know that everyone really values their family, but I would not be the person I am today without them. I was brought up a feminist by my mum and my grandmother, so I’ve always had this inherent sense of equality and a desire to fight for it. I have a very politically divided family, but that’s made for a lot of good conversations. My family are my support system. They keep me together, and I, them – which is why what’s happening to me is so scary.

When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which is a rare kind of cancer that affects one in 7 million people. I’d initially been misdiagnosed with glandular fever by my paediatrician, but when we finally found out that I had cancer I spent five months in hospital undergoing a course of really intense chemotherapy and radiation. The chemo kills every fast-reproducing cell, so the treatment affected my hair, my stomach lining and my mouth; I couldn’t eat or drink because of the radiation. After the course of chemotherapy and radiation, I was told I was in remission, but three weeks later the doctors said they’d got it wrong and that I was terminal.

People think that you’re going to break down when you’re told something like that, then instantly have an answer when they ask you what you want to do as a result of the news. But I still don’t know – it still hasn’t sunk in. I don’t think it’s really going to until it really has to. I didn’t let out any emotion for a few days – my mum may have, but not around me. It was tough because we were both just trying to look after each other and protect each other. Then we all suddenly started realising that my family is just going to have to cope without me in their lives. All of the people I rely on – and who rely on me – just took a big, deep breath in, then held it as we realised the impact this is going to have. I’m still not sure when to let that breath out.

In answer to the question, ‘What do you want to do before you die?’ I decided that I wanted to do what I’ve always planned to do with my life, but do it really fast. So, what matters to me are women’s rights and combating sexual violence, because I want to give more in life than I’ve taken.

Growing up, I was always aware that different genders were treated differently. And I’ve always wanted to help people. When I was thirteen, my friends and I tottered into a feminist-club meeting at school, and came out feeling so amazing and empowered – we realised that we wanted more of it.

Before I became sick, I got involved with Wellington Rape Crisis, an organisation that provides support for survivors of rape and their families. That experience showed me that I wanted to work in the sexual-violence sector, with an emphasis on prevention rather than support – I think I’m more of a politician than a counsellor. I developed a business plan for an online-messaging service that would allow survivors to message trained professionals, around the clock, who can link them up with support services in their area. I had the opportunity to speak with Jan Logie – a New Zealand member of parliament for the Green Party – about my idea, and she offered me an internship with the Green Party.

I’ve carried out and read a lot of research on international messaging platforms like the one I am proposing, which have proved incredibly successful, so I really think New Zealand needs one. Here, one in five women will experience a serious sexual assault in her lifetime, one in three girls will be abused before they turn sixteen and one in seven boys will be sexually abused by adulthood. This is a huge problem. Jan helped me get my business plan out there, and an agency called Help Auckland responded; they are New Zealand’s biggest provider for sexual abuse survivors. We developed a fundraising page with the aim of raising NZ$50,000; after getting the message out, we reached our goal in under five months.

Q. What brings you happiness?

I really love soap operas; they are my guilty pleasure.

I very much admire Helen Kelly – the New Zealand union leader – who passed away in 2016. She was an amazing woman. The people she helped all talk about how she became like a member of their families. I’d like to emulate her and give my time, affection and love to those who need it. Because, when helping someone really pays off, that’s the biggest reward.

Q. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

That’s tricky, because there’s so much misery in the world. I’m very close to my mum, and I’ve always really wanted children, which I won’t have, so the thing that I find hardest is seeing scenes of mothers and children being ripped away from each other in Syria. The idea of losing a child is scary – which is why what I’m going through is so hard – but, at the same time, I know that I don’t have it as bad as what you see happening in Syria.

Q. What would you change if you could?

There are so many things, but can I just say world peace? That fixes them all: poverty, anger, hate.

Q. Which single word do you most identify with?

Love. For me, love is a very, very deep, meaningful and sacred thing. I make sure I say, ‘I love you,’ to the people I love all the time. I call my grandma, my godfather and my aunt every day before I go to bed to tell them I love them. Love is the thing that keeps me ticking.

200 Women Who Will Change The Way You See The World, edited by Ruth Hobday, Geoff Blackwell, Marianne Lassandro and Sharon Gelman (Chronicle Books, 31 October 2017, £35.)