A Ballymena woman has opened up and shared the emotive details of her son’s cancer journey in support of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Kathy O’Neill has joined forces with local charity, Cancer Fund for Children, to raise awareness of how the illness affects the whole family and what support is available.
Kathy’s son Caiden (six) was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a cancer of the lymphatic system, in 2008 when he was aged just five months.
The little boy has endured intense chemotherapy, total body radiation and a stem cell transplant. He also had a bone marrow transplant in May last year - his only hope for survival.
“Last year was one of the most stressful of our lives, with most of our time spent in hospital,” said Kathy.
“The bone marrow transplant was successful in that my son is now in remission but it wasn’t a good match and Caiden reacted badly to it. His skin peeled from head to toe and even now he still has to be fed through a tube. We also have to keep an eye out for long-term side effects such as osteoporosis and cataracts.”
Kathy, Caiden and his sister Ellie have received support from Cancer Fund for Children Specialist Anne Gordon since the point of diagnosis. The charity’s Specialist team delivers one-to-one support designed to help families cope with the impact cancer has on their lives.
“We loved to see Anne coming to the house. Her sessions gave Caiden and Ellie a chance to spend some time with someone outside of the family and to talk to Anne about anything that was worrying them. Anne’s visits also meant I had someone to talk to who understood what I was going through,” she said.
The family also benefitted from Cancer Fund for Children’s Travel for Treatment grant, a one-off payment of £500, because Caiden had to travel outside of Northern Ireland for treatment and they enjoyed a Cancer Fund for Children free therapeutic short break, the aim of which is to offer rest and relaxation during at any stage of the cancer journey.
Despite the hardships Kathy has faced she has whole-heartedly thrown herself into raising awareness and fundraising for Cancer Fund for Children.
Kathy, who heads up Cancer Fund for Children’s Ballymena Support Group, has raised over £20,000 for the charity and also motivates others to face their own fears and challenges whether that’s skydiving or running a marathon.
Kathy’s achieved all this while being an amazing mum and holding her family together despite being separated for long periods of time during Caiden’s treatment.
She said: “Fundraising and raising awareness when I’m faced with my worst fears on a daily basis helps me stay focused for Caiden and bring something positive out of our journey.
“I am proud to be able to share my story during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and highlight that the charity’s services that focus on psychological well-being are as important as medical care during the cancer journey.”
Why not support Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by wearing a gold ribbon which can be purchased from Sainsbury’s Forestside branch, A McLean Bookmakers, Progressive Building Society and Mount Charles canteens. You can also show your support and donate £3 by texting DAISY to 70555.