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Spirit of NI Awards: Brave Aine raises thousands for cancer charity

Portstewart schoolgirl (13) sprung into action after mum was diagnosed

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The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill pictured with her mum Catriona, dad James and brother Finn

The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill pictured with her mum Catriona, dad James and brother Finn

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill and mum Catriona

The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill and mum Catriona

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Spirit of Youth winner Aine Hamill

Spirit of Youth winner Aine Hamill

Aine Hamill with Jacqui Pope, head of service for Better

Aine Hamill with Jacqui Pope, head of service for Better

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill pictured with Pamela Ballantine and mum Catriona

The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill pictured with Pamela Ballantine and mum Catriona

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

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The winner of the Spirit of Youth category Aine Hamill pictured with her mum Catriona, dad James and brother Finn

A remarkable teen who supported her mum through breast cancer while also raising thousands of pounds for research into the disease picked up our Spirit of Youth Award sponsored by Better.

Although dealing with her own health issues, Co Antrim schoolgirl Aine Hamill (13) really stepped up when her mum Catriona (45) was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2020.

There was further trauma for the Portstewart family when Catriona’s sister Brid, who lives in Tipperary, was diagnosed in October with jaw cancer.

Aine got together with Brid’s daughter Caoimhe (12) and planned what became a phenomenally successful fundraiser.

The two girls, who live hundreds of miles apart, stepped out from their homes each day for 30 days in February and March to walk 5km.

Under the tagline ‘Every cancer patient should become a survivor’ they managed to raise an incredible £12,046 for cancer research. Aine says their aim was simple: “I knew it was hard for my mum but I also knew we were lucky because she would get better.

“We hoped to raise £100 and I was really shocked when we raised over £1,000 in the first day and very shocked by the final amount of over £12,000.”

The Dominican College pupil, who was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) three years ago, struggles with a fear of germs.

During the pandemic she attended a virtual conference with other young people her age who live with OCD from across the UK which gave her the confidence to talk about her illness — something which for years she had tried to hide. She has now set up an Instagram page (aines.ocd) to raise awareness and help other young people.

Her mum Catriona, who is still receiving treatment for breast cancer, says she and the whole family — dad James (46) and brothers Finn (10) and Ronan (24) — are all proud of what Aine has achieved.

Catriona has come through surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and is now receiving herceptin treatment.

She says: “Aine is a great wee girl and has been a great support to me. We were dreading telling her the news that I was sick but she was just so positive about it.

“She has her own struggles with OCD and it can be very difficult for her at times.

“When I was going through treatment there were times when I felt guilty because I couldn’t do things for the children that I would normally do, but Aine said to me ‘you just concentrate on you and get better, you did everything for me before’. My young son Finn was equally supportive and it was just lovely that I had that support. It was great to see Aine being so positive in the face of adversity.” Aine was first referred to mental health services at the age of six for anxiety and it wasn’t until three years ago that she was diagnosed with OCD.

Her mum says simple things can be a struggle for her as she lives with a constant fear of germs.

When Covid struck, Catriona was particularly worried for her daughter’s mental health but says in some ways the pandemic made life easier for Aine.

She explains: “Aine has had a lot of therapies and it has taken a long time for her to accept her diagnosis. She wouldn’t have told her friends as it was something she always wanted to keep hidden.

“She attended a conference a year ago with the charity OCD UK and it involved talking to other young people which made her realise she wasn’t alone and for the first time she felt able to talk about it.

“She got together with some of the young people to set up a youth forum, where they support each other.

“She then set up an Instagram account to post positive messages and educate people about OCD and let young people know it is fine to ask for help and also that there are organisations they can go to. She has a fear of germs which makes her afraid to socialise because she is afraid of getting sick.

“We worried when Covid came about but it was actually good for her because she wasn’t the only one washing her hands, everyone had to do it. Having to stay at home and socially distance was a bit like a comfort blanket to her.

“It was hard for her coming out of it again. She is constantly on high alert; she never relaxes and doesn’t sleep well.”

Despite her own struggles, Aine spent last year supporting her mum through her illness and raising funds for Cancer Research UK. She said of her OCD diagnosis: “It is tough to come to terms with and it can be very hard sometimes.

“I have learnt to try and calm myself because I can get very worried at times.

“Being in the group with other young people has really helped me to cope.”

Delighted that her mum nominated her for our Spirit of Youth Award, she adds: “I am really chuffed.”


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