Belfast Telegraph

'I lost brother to cancer at 15 and now my baby has it... charity's help for families like mine vital'

By Adrian Rutherford

A Northern Ireland mother whose baby was diagnosed with cancer at just four weeks old has told how the devastating news robbed them of a normal family life.

Karen Brown lost her brother Graeme to cancer 23 years ago at the age of 15. She said she never expected her own family would one day be affected by the illness.

The Markethill woman is sharing her story as part of Cancer Fund for Children's summer appeal. She is encouraging people to donate whatever they can to support families like hers whose lives have been devastated by childhood cancer.

Karen said the charity helped her family throughout one of the most difficult times in their lives.

She described receiving the shocking news that her son Tom had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a rare cancer that affects young children - in 2015.

"Tom was delivered very quickly," Karen recalled.

"Everything was fine for the first few hours. He was not even 12 hours old when he was transferred to the neo-natal ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he stayed for four weeks.

"It was whilst we were there that we were told he had neuroblastoma.

"At first we were advised to wait and see if it would disappear by itself, which can sometimes happen with babies, but when that didn't work, the juggernaut that is cancer treatment and chemo started.

"When Tom started treatment, it was as if the cancer had robbed us of a normal family life.

"You can't go out and show off the baby. You can't do the things that other new mummies enjoy. It robs you of that special time. It was very isolating."

Cancer Fund for Children stepped in to support Karen and her family, including Tom's older brother Robbie, who was six at the time.

Its community specialists provide one-to-one support to siblings who are worried or lonely.

Karen added: "It can be hard on any child when a new baby comes along, but suddenly for Robbie, his mummy wasn't there any more.

"He was never sure who was picking him up from school, as I had to spend so much time staying with Tom in the hospital. In the beginning it had a really big impact with me being away a lot.

"We were also very worried about the risk of infection at home. Robbie wasn't allowed on the ward or to have friends over."

After six cycles of chemotherapy Tom and his family are trying to get back to normal.

Karen hopes their story will inspire others to support the local charity's summer appeal.

"His last chemo ended on July 29, 2016," she added.

"The last couple of stronger cycles were harder on him and he was quite sick, but he coped well.

"He doesn't really know any different. He sees the doctors and nurses and he just smiles at them.

"Right now he still has a little bit of neuroblastoma left, so we have to go for check-ups but, touch wood, he is okay. We are just trying to become normal again.

Gemma O'Toole, a Cancer Fund for Children community specialist, said a cancer diagnosis for a child can have a sudden and dramatic impact on family life.

"The most rewarding aspect for me is being able to build a relationship of trust with a family at the most devastating, shattering time of their lives," she said.

To donate, go to CancerFundForChildren.

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