Karen Carlin wants other parents of sick children to know they're not alone
A Northern Ireland mum has told how her family faced the hardest of times after her young daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
Karen Carlin's daughter Caoilfhionn was just a year old when doctors said she was suffering from neuroblastoma.
Her parents had noticed she was sweating a lot and initially thought it was due to a congenital heart defect.
Karen, from The Glen, in Londonderry, said: "The initial shock was unbelievable. When Caoilfhionn was in surgery it was one of the hardest times, we were so worried.
"The time kept ticking on and we were getting worse and worse. We got really frantic."
Karen is sharing her story via the Clic Sargent charity to raise awareness of the emotional and mental impact of cancer.
Caoilfhionn, now aged three, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in October 2014.
She was referred for x-rays and an ultrasound, which revealed a tumour behind her kidney.
Caoilfhionn underwent eight hours of surgery at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Fortunately, the family was told she wouldn't need chemotherapy.
Karen added: "While we were in hospital with Caoilfhionn the feeling was sort of indescribable. It felt like my chest was caving in. It was desperate.
"Emotions were running high and I was crying all the time.
"I didn't realise at the time, but I was suffering with anxiety. If I left the ward to get a drink or something I would get back to the doors and I just couldn't breathe. I found it overwhelming standing at those doors to go back in.
"I felt like if I spoke to people about how I felt and what was going on I was burdening them with it. That definitely added extra stress.
"The focus is on your sick child and nobody really asked how we were doing, which of course is completely understandable. But we were hurting. We were broken.
"At the time it was like my life was just upside down."
The family was supported by a Clic Sargent social worker and Karen is now keen to raise awareness in a bid to help others.
Research by Clic Sargent found 63% of parents said they experienced depression during their child's treatment and 37% experienced panic attacks.
Yet less than 40% accessed support for managing stress and anxiety during their child's treatment.
Karen added: "You just never know what someone else is going through and feeling like you're able to talk openly is a huge thing.
"My granny's saying was 'There is always a story behind the smile', which I couldn't agree with more."