A Co Down family whose son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at just seven weeks old have urged people to support the charity which helped them through their most difficult days.
Shay Knox was born on February 4, 2017, weighing 9lbs 12oz, leaving his mum Susanne (30) and dad Mark (27), from Kilcoo, delighted.
However, the onset of illness just a few days later and the arrival of a rash left the couple wondering what was happening to their newborn.
The realisation several weeks later that baby Shay was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) left Susanne "floored", with the infant embarking on chemotherapy treatment at just nine weeks old.
On what is International Childhood Cancer Day and with up to 70 children and babies in Northern Ireland diagnosed with cancer each year, Susanne recalled how the support they received from the Children's Cancer Unit Charity was invaluable. They are now urging people to back the charity, which supports the work of the haematology and oncology unit at the Royal, where children can receive specialist treatment.
"I knew in myself from the beginning there was something wrong but I didn't ever believe it could be this," explained Susanne. "When the doctors started talking about chemotherapy and that the cancer was in the bones in his skull, I was so worried.
"We were originally told it would be 12 months of it. He was required to get chemo every two weeks. Shay's chemo was never straightforward. He ended up going through two years and eight months of it. We were never away from the hospital.
"What was remarkable throughout that time was how he coped. He coped better than I ever could have. He was severely sick, but always smiled the whole way through it."
While the regular trips back and forward to hospital, alongside the weeks of living as an inpatient were hard on Shay, Susanne also emphasised the toll on older brother Zach (now 6) and explained it was during these difficult months that the support of the Children's Cancer Unit charity really made a difference.
She added: "If Shay even took so much as a temperature - and obviously that happens frequently with young babies - he was admitted as an inpatient.
"Due to Shay's immune system being compromised, he wasn't allowed to be out in public. We couldn't do those ordinary family things you take for granted.
"The charity gave us days where we as a family could have some fun time away from the hospital. It really uplifted us as a family and took our heads out of the chemo. The charity made the hard times just that wee bit easier."
Having finished his long road through treatment in December 2019, Shay and the family were finally looking forward to living a life away from hospitals, before the first coronavirus lockdown struck.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Susanne says the now four-year-old Shay is "just full of craic" and enjoying life.