Family hails Daisy Lodge 'haven' as leukaemia-battling Zara back at school and feeling better
Zara Barnett was just 11 years old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia.
And in a heartbreaking irony, the youngster began her gruelling treatment on the day she should have been starting secondary school.
But almost a year-and-a-half on, the Co Down teen is getting back to normal. Now 13, she has come through a challenging year, she's getting stuck into pony riding lessons, and she's embarking on her second term at her new school.
Zara's mum Nola Harrison recalls how the family's life was turned upside down when they got the devastating news.
"We had just been enjoying the last days of our summer holidays when we noticed Zara was very tired and not her usual self," said Nola.
"I phoned the doctor as soon as we got home, and he referred us that day to the Royal for tests. It was later that day that they told us Zara had leukaemia. When I heard that word I was very scared and thought 'surely there must be a mistake'."
Zara's treatment started straight away.
"Reality hit when we were sitting in this small grey hospital room, when Zara should have been starting her first day at school," said Nola. "Things started to change very quickly during that first round of treatment.
"She became really sick, she wasn't able to eat very much, and with the chemotherapy we knew she was going to lose her hair, so she bravely decided to have it shaved off."
It was a challenging time for the family, not only for Zara and her mum, but for brothers Harrison and Zac and sister Juliette.
Support soon came in the form of the Cancer Fund for Children, which offered them sanctuary at Daisy Lodge in Newcastle.
"When we first went to Daisy Lodge Zara was still in treatment, so we went there straight from the hospital," said Nola.
"Zara still wasn't very well so she was in a wheelchair and had a feeding tube, but we were so excited to be out of hospital. When we arrived Zara was no longer a patient, she was just Zara. In the hospital environment Zara was so sick, she wasn't talking to anyone, she had totally closed down. When she got to Daisy Lodge she relaxed immediately and started to open up."
Nola said the support at Daisy Lodge took a huge amount of the strain away.
After a difficult year, Zara started secondary school last September and is gradually getting back to normality. Daisy Lodge opened in April 2014, and has already provided 1,000 short breaks to families affected by cancer.
To find out more about the support that Cancer Fund for Children offers, call 028 9080 5599 or go to www.cancerfundforchildren.com