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'Every day with Maisie is a bonus' - How cancer charity gave a Northern Ireland family quality time together

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Maisie May McCandless

Maisie May McCandless

Maisie May McCandless

A Co Antrim mum says she will be forever grateful to a leading cancer charity for their support when her baby daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer.

In April 2017, Keith and Wendy McCandless, from Cloughmills, were stunned when little Maisie May was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumour at just eight months old.

The couple, who are both aged 32, married almost six years ago and welcomed Maisie May on July 20, 2016.

"She arrived two weeks early, but everything about the birth was normal," Wendy told the Belfast Telegraph.

"But after a few months, we found her to be quite an unsettled child who cried a lot.

I knew that children get cancer, but you never really believe it until it happens to you

"At trips to the doctor, we were always told that she might have normal things that newborns suffer from like constipation, silent reflux or just be teething.

"When I went back to work for the first time, my mother-in-law noticed Maisie had a large lump in her side which had appeared overnight," Wendy recalls.

"Our GP sent us straight to Antrim Area Hospital, where tests confirmed she had a tumour.

"At that moment, life as we knew it changed.

"We had realised there was something wrong, but cancer was not the word I was expecting to hear, so it was a huge shock. I knew that children get cancer, but you never really believe it until it happens to you."

Within days of her diagnosis, Maisie underwent surgery at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital followed by six months of chemotherapy.

While Wendy says it was a long and difficult road during Maisie's illness, her family were hugely boosted by the support from the Cancer Fund for Children charity.

We don't take anything for granted anymore

"The chemotherapy left Maisie with a low immune system and at high risk of infection and viruses, so we lived mostly in isolation," Wendy explained.

"The Cancer Fund for Children realised the pressure this can put on family life and the need to share quality time together."

During Maisie's illness, the family stayed several times at the charity's purpose-built therapeutic centre, Daisy Lodge, in Newcastle, Co Down.

This week, they returned to Daisy Lodge for the opening of its new Fairy Garden facility.

"Staying there gave us a chance to have a little break, to really relax and enjoy time together away from hospitals and it made such a difference to us. Now every day with Maisie is a bonus and we don't take anything for granted anymore.

"We're very grateful that she's able to be attend pre-school in Ballymena given all she has been through. Her prognosis is good, but she still has regular check ups every four months," Wendy added.

The McCandless family have helped two retailers, Eurospar and ViVoxtra, raise over £1 million for Cancer Fund for Children.

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Maisie with mum Wendy and dad Keith

Maisie with mum Wendy and dad Keith

Maisie with mum Wendy and dad Keith

The Fairy Garden has been created, thanks to the fundraising efforts undertaken by retailers across Northern Ireland and the McCandless family, who backed the campaign.

Cancer Fund for Children has been partnered with the two supermarkets since May 2011, and over the past nine years, staff members have completed treks, created baking recipe books, held in-store events and fun days, and hosted community coffee mornings, which has become the biggest partnership event for the charity, raising £160,000 alone.

Gail Boyd, who owns Creighton's Eurospar of Finaghy on Belfast's Lisburn Road, was among those involved in the fundraising: "Our supermarket has raised over £300,000 for Cancer Fund for Children during the nine-year partnership, however, our family never thought it would resonate so personally with us until our grandson, Teddy, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in December 2011, and passed away just nine months later.

"We're very proud to continue to be part of the partnership for a charity that we know makes a huge difference in the lives of families living with cancer in Northern Ireland," she said.

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