Friends Cof the Cancer Centre: A special wish this Christmas
Two teenage cancer patients are backing a special appeal this Christmas as our reporter finds out.
Cancer unfortunately doesn't take a break for Christmas. However, teenagers Amy Uprichard from Lurgan and Jarlath Nicholl from Coalisland are two patients fortunate enough to be home for the holidays and they took time out from their treatment last week to launch the Friends of the Cancer Centre charity's Wish Upon a Star appeal.
Based right in the heart of the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, the charity's workers will adorn the Centre's Christmas tree with a host of very special stars, each dedicated to someone affected by cancer.
Colleen Shaw, chief executive of Friends of the Cancer Centre says: “While this Christmas will be difficult for many, we want to do something to recognise all our patients and their familes.”
Here the two teenagers tell of their wishes for the coming years.
'I want to be a pro kick-boxer one day'
Jarlath Nicholl (18) lives in Coalisland with his parents Anne and Jim, a welder, brother Adam (21) and sister Danielle (23). He is being treated for acute lymphocytic leukaemia. He says:
"Earlier this year I started to bruise very easily, especially on my arms and sides. I'm a kick- boxer but the bruises would appear just from walking around. I had no energy either. The doctor thought it was meningitis at first. I went to Craigavon Area Hospital for tests and they sent me to the Belfast City Hospital for more.
They gave me the diagnosis on July 9. It was a huge shock for me and all the family. That day was my grandad's anniversary – he died from leukaemia 42 years ago, a different type. My type isn't hereditary apparently.
My girlfriend Holly (18) was devastated but since the initial shock everyone has been just taking it as it comes. At the start I was in hospital for 12 weeks, then two months out and three and-a-half weeks back in. I lost my hair – I had a mad amount of hair but when I started noticing it coming out I got the hairdresser to shave it all off.
Amy's lucky to have kept her hair. We've become good friends and we'll stay in touch. I hope to become an out-patient soon, as long as my blood count stays up.
I ended up in A&E in Craigavon last week though. I'm having chemo injected into the muscle of my legs at home at the minute and the side effects were really bad the other day.
I don't get angry about all this. I have great support from my doctors and my family and my girlfriend. I'm not afraid – I was sort of, at the start, but I understand what's wrong with me and what they're doing about it.
I'm really happy to be able to spend Christmas at home. I'll have to go in and out for checks in the new year but I'm hoping to get started with an ICT engineering course. I haven't been able to do kick-boxing for while and I'd need to get into back shape for that. Hopefully I could go pro some day. I'd love that, but it's one day at a time.
'I kept dancing throughout treatment and won show place'
Amy Uprichard (16) from Lurgan is not letting her acute myeloid leukaemia stand in the way of anything in her young life. Not only did she bravely complete her GCSEs in hospital – achieving two A-stars, six As and one B – she also recently won a part in the English Youth Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty at the Grand Opera House in Belfast next April. She says:
"My biggest wish this year was to wake up at home on Christmas morning and just to have the normal family dinner and get-together with granny and all the family. But if I had to have stay in hospital I would have done so and that's that.
There are some of my fellow patients who won't get home but there is a celebration in the wards this week with cakes and party food and a choir, and some of the doctors come up and play their guitars and sing. They put on a wee show – I'm raging I'll miss it!
I've just had my last round of chemotherapy, my fourth. I was in for four weeks exactly, having treatment for fours hours at a time on the first, third and fifth days. I just sat there with my drip, reading.
It was a very high dose of chemo but for some reason my hair didn't fall out. The doctors said it was very unusual and they've never seen this before with my condition, but I still have a full head of hair.
I've been more tired than usual, that's all.
Thankfully I recovered very fast this time.
I'll have to go in for checks in the new year to make sure the leukaemia stays as it is. I want to go back to school and get caught up with my As course. I'm doing chemistry, biology, business studies and French.
I'd like to go off and dance after I reach 18 years of age, but I've also been thinking about studying to become a doctor or something in the medical field.
The team in the City is so inspiring. They have really opened my eyes. Their dedication and commitment, and the long hours they do – it's amazing. They take such an interest in each and every patient and have such a close relationship with them.
Most of the patients are older, 40s and upwards. My condition is mostly found in people over 60, so I'm a bit of a fluke. I have got very close to Jarlath (Nicholl) and we'll be friends for life. I'm hoping he can come and see me in Sleeping Beauty.
I had the audition recently and got it. I felt very strong that day; I think I got the energy from pure adrenaline.
It was great to be able to do it. I've been dancing all through my chemo so there was no way I was going to miss the auditions after I saw it advertised on the internet.
I'm not bitter or angry at all about the illness. I count myself as one of the lucky ones.
I haven't had too many bad days overall. It's hard to watch others suffering though. I'm happy to to keep going and take it all as it comes."
How to make a wish
For a small donation, people will be able to write their own personal wish, message or simply the name of a loved one on a beautiful gold star, which will then be displayed on the Cancer Centre's tree. Everyone who makes a wish will also be given their own personalised star to hang on their tree at home, keeping that someone special close at this time of year.
Colleen Shaw of the Friends of the Cancer Centre says: "The Wish Upon a Star appeal is our way of bringing Christmas right into the heart of the Centre and marking it in a unique and special way.
Stars are available for a suggested donation of £5 directly from the Friends of the Cancer Centre office. For more information go to www.friendsofthecancercentre.com or tel: 028 9069 9393