Help save kids like Melissa: Nine-year-old cancer survivor's family plea for donations for specialist unit
The father of a nine-year-old girl who beat cancer after a tumour the size of a melon was discovered attached to her kidney has urged the public to support an appeal to raise funds for a unit to help save other children.
Melissa Harshaw from Newry was diagnosed when she was six in 2012 and treated in the Children's Cancer and Haematology Unit in the Royal Victoria Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
The unit where Melissa -who is now in remission - was given medical care is supported by the Children's Cancer Unit Charity.
Formerly known as the NI Children's Cancer Unit Fund, it has now launched a campaign to raise £800,000 to build two isolation rooms in the hospital.
The rooms, which should be built in 18 months, will support children receiving life-saving treatment for high risk patients.
The charity, which has been a lifeline for hundreds of children since 1984, also donated £300,000 to the children's MRI scanner which, after facing delays, is arriving next week. Melissa's father Aubrey (38) said the team at the unit were fantastic after the devastating news about Melissa more than two years ago.
"It is hard to believe, and looking back it was all a blur," he said.
"At the same time, I lost my father eight days after Melissa was diagnosed, to bowel cancer.
"But she had a six-week course of chemo to shrink the tumour, which our consultant compared to as the size of a melon.
"This was to shrink it down to a lemon. Then she had the surgery to remove the left kidney, which the tumour was attached to.
"Then she underwent a further nine months of chemo."
Her father said Melissa, a pupil at Mullaglass Primary School, is doing "fantastic" now but the unit needs more financial support to keep helping other families.
The Northern Ireland Children's Cancer Unit Fund was set up nearly 30 years ago by parents, relatives, friends and medical professionals concerned about facilities for children and young adults with cancer and blood disorders such as haemophilia.
The long-term objective is to open a dedicated haematology and oncology unit at the new children's hospital, set to open its doors within the next five years.
Jacqueline Wilkinson, administrator with the charity, said: "Between 50 and 60 children with newly diagnosed cancer and between 100 and 200 newly diagnosed children with benign haematological conditions are treated in the cancer and haematology unit each year."
The story so far
Karen Brookes, co-director for planning and redevelopment at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, told the Belfast Telegraph: "We welcome the current fundraising efforts from the Children's Cancer Unit Charity, who in addition to funding the development of the Cancer and Haematology Unit also donated £300,000 to the children's MRI scanner, which is arriving next week."