Belfast Telegraph

How teenage cancer patients like Alisha are being helped by fashionistas here

Classical music meets catwalk today at the Clandeboye Festival as fashion students show off their skills for charity. Kerry McKittrick and Laura McGarrity meet the designers and the people they’re helping.

Would-be Stella McCartneys and Victoria Beckhams will showcase their catwalk designs at a charity fashion show at the Clandeboye Estate near Bangor. The Strike A Pose event — part of the Clandeboye Festival of Music and a first for the event — will not only feature the province’s hottest young design talent, but will raise funds for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children.

Now in its 10th year, the festival has always been a showcase for young musicians, but this year it will also offer a chance to see collections from this year's fashion graduates from the University of Ulster and Belfast Metropolitan College, as well as help raise money and awareness for the NICFC, which provides vital support for both youngsters suffering from the disease and their families.

Cash raised will help fund workshops for young sufferers as well as provide essential respite care for the families.

Jacqui Clancy (39), from Londonderry, is the North and West youth programme co-ordinator for NICFC. She says: “ A lot of the young people we work with struggle with low self-esteem and confidence issues because of losing their hair or gaining weight because of steroids, so this will be a great way to show them they can still get involved with fashion and be girly. We do a lot of one-to-one work with the young people and all the cash raised will really help.”

‘Alisha was on life support’

Monica Cassidy (37) lives in Coleraine with her four children Christopher (21), Nicole (20), Nathan (18) and Alisha (13). She says:

In June of last year Alisha started complaining of a sore head. I thought it wasn't anything too serious — just the stress of end of term exams.

By July I started taking her to the GP, but we always ended up with a locum. He told us that it was probably hormones and sent us home with Ibuprofen.

The next week I was at work as a restaurant supervisor and Alisha rang to say that the pain was so bad she felt sick with it. I rushed home, took her to the GP’s surgery again and this time I demanded to see our family doctor. After a quick balance exam he sent us up to the Causeway Hospital for a CT scan, just in case.

I know a lot of the nurses in the hospital, and one in particular has a granddaughter who plays with Alisha, so she's seen her grow up. We had the CT scan at 3.15pm and then the nurse came to tell me that the doctor wanted to speak to me. At that, she started to cry.

I went quite cold at that point. The doctor told me that there was a mass on Alisha's brain stem and that it was the size of a baseball. They thought it was a cyst . We were immediately taken to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. We were told that the cyst could burst at any minute — at any bump in the road — and so a doctor and a nurse went in the ambulance with us. They told us there was a 50/50 chance she’d survive the journey.

When we got to the Royal everyone was so calm and relaxed. I can't express how wonderful they were. An MRI scan revealed that Alisha had a tumour surrounded by a cyst. It's unusual for children of her age to get brain tumours. Between July last year and May this year Alisha had seven surgeries to reduce the size of the tumour and put shunts into her brain — most of the operations lasted around 14 hours. She spent just 19 days out of hospital. During that time she was paralysed down her left-hand side and has since regained some movement. She spent a lot of time in the paediatric intensive care unit and was even on life support. For a while the tumour was putting so much pressure on her brain that it was threatening to push her eye out of the socket. There have been times when I’ve seen her slipping away from me in seconds, but the brilliant staff at the Royal have brought her back.

Alisha's been at home since May and hopes to go back to school in September, although she will need a a little help. While this has been happening, youth worker Jacqui from the NI Cancer Fund for Children has been brilliant. A friend suggested that I contact the charity last November to see if they could help. They have been fantastic from the word go.

I gave up my job to look after Alisha full-time, so we spend a lot of time together. Jacqui visits and spends time with Alisha. It doesn't sound like much but having 20 minutes to go and make the beds can make all the difference.

Jacqui is also someone for Alisha to talk to. She'll have a pamper day with her and they'll just chat away. It's very important for Alisha to have someone to offload to. They've even offered us holidays to Newcastle.

They've been a great support to the whole family.”

‘Aislinn’s in remission, they still help’

Geraldine Loughran (40) lives in Lurgan with her children, Sarah (20), Ciara (19), Roisin (13), Eamon (11) and Aislinn (9). She says:

Six years ago Aislinn lost her balance while out playing. It would have looked normal to anyone else but I recognised the signs straight away because her late dad had battled tumours all his life.

They found a tumour at the back of her brain and she underwent surgery for almost 10 hours to remove it. The results of a biopsy showed it was malignant.

Aislinn had two very strong doses of chemotherapy and they couldn't understand why the wound at the back of her head wasn't healing. Then they realised she’d contracted MRSA. She had five weeks of intravenous antibiotics before she went straight into radiotherapy, and another two rounds of chemotherapy. Through all this I felt like I was on the outside looking in, like I was watching someone else. Funnily enough, Aislinn came out of herself during her treatment — she was very quiet before but now is really bubbly.

We’ve had wonderful support from the NICFC home worker Anne, who has become a friend. She would sit with Aislinn to give me a break and even help around the house.

And, even though Aislinn has been in remission for the last few years, they haven't gone away. They’ve provided her with counselling because of her size — Aislinn is very small because of where the tumour was in her brain — and has to undergo growth and hormone treatment. She's also been on holiday with the organisation to Shimna Valley respite centre in Newcastle where she has met other children who have gone through the same thing.

I've been fundraising for them — I've done a sky dive and am about to do an abseil. Anything I can to do to provide this service, for even a little while for a family, will be so appreciated, just as we appreciated it.”

‘I could feel my twin sister’s pain ...’

Rachel Sayers (25) works in retail and lives in Sion Mills. Her twin sister Judith died of leukaemia last year. She says:

Judith was first diagnosed when we were 15 and still at school doing our GCSEs. We were always very close. I've often been asked if identical twins feel pain if their twin is in pain, and you do feel it.

Judith underwent a lot of treatment in Belfast and Dublin and was re-diagnosed three times. During that time the NICFC were always on hand. Youth worker Jacqui provided one-to-one care for Judith and it really helped that she had someone to talk to outside the family. They’d go out for tea or for lunch — it was a chance for Judith to feel normal and it meant a lot to her.

Judith even completed her Duke Of Edinburgh bronze and silver awards through them — she wasn't in school enough to do them there.

Judith died on November 11, 2011, but that doesn't mean the charity has gone away. Jacqui is like a member of the family and the NICFC still invites us to all kinds of events. They were primarily there to help Judith, but they helped the rest of the family too.

Strike A Pose, today , 2.30pm. Tickets £20. To book, please ring the Grand Opera House, Belfast, tel: 028 9024 1919 or visit www.goh.co.uk

Why four women at the fashion helm are striking a pose for our kids

Maureen Martin - show organiser

Maureen Martin, (inset) late 60s, has organised the Strike A Pose for Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children. She is the owner of Maureen Martin Model Management/Show Production, and lives in Dungannon with her husband Robin. They have three grown-up daughters. She says:

I was delighted to be approached by Camerata Ireland to get involved with this year’s Clandeboye Festival and with my line of work I felt the best thing I could offer was to organise a fashion show.

The festival is all about young musicians, so from day one it seemed to make sense that we used young designers in the show. I’ve always felt it is important to encourage young talent with as many opportunities as possible.We picked the NI Cancer Fund For Children because it does such great work, and also because, like the Clandeboye Festival, it’s about young people.

The designers in the show are all from Belfast Met and the University of Ulster. Along with Alexander McQueen I used to be on the panel for marking student collections at UU, so I have seen a lot through the years. The standard of design this year is very high. There are some very talented young women.

It will be a great show and the audience will leave with fab goodie bags. With any luck this could be a yearly event and we can keep encouraging young fashion and musical talent here.”

Laura Abraham - designer

Laura Abraham (22), from Dungannon, recently graduated from the University of Ulster in textile design, and is now an intern at Belfast brand Goddess and Swift, Malone Road. |She says:

At the end of our university year all the final year students put on an art show, and the one time I left my collection to go and get lunch I missed a talent scout. Luckily, she took my business card and then gave me a ring to ask me to get involved with the Strike a Pose event at the Clandeboye Festival.

I agreed straight away. I’d been asked by a few people for various shows but Maureen’s passion really won me over. It will be a great opportunity to get more exposure for my work. The worst thing is when you work on dresses for so long and then they sit in your wardrobe — most of them don’t even fit me.

I’ve never been to the festival before and I can’t wait to see my creations worn, as well as all the other collections. Most of all it will be great to raise money for the children’s cancer charity.

My collection was inspired by birds and flying, not unlike Black Swan. The dresses are made from a lot of sheer materials and are all black. They are very lightweight and represent the weightlessness of flying.”

Jenni Brown - designer

Jennie Brown (23, below), from Bangor, is a recent fashion and textile graduate from the University of Ulster. She says:

Shortly after I graduated in July, my course director Alison Gault, contacted me to ask if I would like to get involved in the Strike A Pose show. We get asked to do fashion shows, but it’s usually at nightclubs or events that wouldn’t really suit what I want my clientele to be.

I thought this would be a great opportunity for me as a designer and it’s for a really good charity. Also, because I am from Bangor, most of my friends and family will be able to come and support the show.

For my final year collection, Keep Calm and Carry Yarn I felt it was right to sort of pay tribute to my grandpa.

He used to be in the RAF, but worked for years as managing director at Dunluce Knitwear, so my collection is full of wartime influences — with lots of knitwear and lace but in a modern way.

I’m really looking forward to going to some of the events at the Clandeboye Festival.

It’s on every year near where I live, but I’ve never had the chance to go — this year I will.”

Saba Akram - designer

Saba Akram (23, left), from Belfast, is also a fashion and textile design graduate from the University of Ulster. She says:

After a trip to Pakistan last summer I based my final year collection on the rickshaws I saw there. They were full of colour and I wanted my clothes to reflect them. At the end of the year my tutor Alison Gault mentioned a charity fashion show and I jumped at the chance. I thought it was such a good cause, and a way to show my work. It is a summer womenswear collection, and there are a few dresses, shirts and knitwear pieces that will be in the show. This will be my first year going to the festival.

For further details on the Clandeboye Festival of Music, visit www.camerata-ireland.com

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