Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland young cancer patients have time of their life on trip to Disneyland Paris

By Claire Williamson

It was the trip of a lifetime to the most magical place.

Twenty six children from Northern Ireland suffering from cancer got the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris just before Christmas.

The children are currently receiving treatment at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

And to make the trip extra special they even got to have breakfast with some of their favourite characters.

The group, along with medical staff, had the time of their lives on the trip organised by the Children's Cancer Unit Charity.

Chris Canning from Moira was there with his son Toby (5) who suffers from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukamia (ALL) which he was diagnosed with in 2015.

The family said due to their son's condition it's hard for them to get away on holiday - but knowing the medical staff were there meant they could relax and have some “precious family time”.

Little Toby was over the moon when he found out and was awake the entire day from 4am when they set off on the journey

He travelled with his dad, mum Emma and big brother Charlie (7).

Chris told the Belfast Telegraph:  “His favourite character is Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck or Farmer Donald as he says. He was very excited.

“We walked around the Disney Village and tried to go onto as many rides as we could. We had a character breakfast and had breakfast with Eeyore, Mickey and Farmer Donald.

“He couldn’t believe it that he was having breakfast and talking to these characters, it’s something you don’t get to do too often.”

Chris paid tribute to the medical staff who were on the trip with them.

He said: “With Toby being on treatment (going on holiday) was something we haven’t been able to do at all - because there is no insurance for us to travel and enjoy family time like that.

“It’s much easier and it was a real comfort to us knowing that Dr McCarthy and the nurses were with us if we ever did need them.

"We felt comfortable, safe and we could enjoy some precious family time.

“Where else would you want to do it?"

Recently Toby visited Santa at Belfast's Christmas market and proceeds from Santa's Grotto this year are going to the Children's Cancer Unit Charity.

Chris said his list for Santa consists of three main things, an iPad, a metal detector and  a mirror “so he could watch his hair grow back and get it gelled up and spiked like his brother”.

Chris said: “He lost it for the third time his hair fell out in August it’s coming back but he wants to get the gel on and wants a mirror to see his hair grow back.

“Toby’s end of treatment date is April next year. We are on standard maintenance at the minute.

“He is an inspiration to us all  - a very brave young fella.

"What other five-year-old will stay awake from four in the morning to ten at night. It was incredible, non-stop, there was always something to laugh or smile about."

Another special moment on the trip came for the adults when they were able to relax and chat - outside of the hospital.

Chris said: "We have never experienced that before. That was one of the blessings of the trip - that we had some good time with other families in the same situation as us - but in a different setting.

No-one talked about treatment, no-one talked about cancer. It was what did you go on what are you doing next - it was just really good fun.

He added: “A big thank you to the charity and sponsors just for giving us that opportunity.”

Another family on the trip was dad Daniel Cushnan who was there with his 8-year-old son Donncha.

The little boy from Mayobridge was diagnosed six years ago with ALL and relapsed 2 years ago.

He had a bone marrow transplant two years ago.

Daniel said: “He’s doing great. He’s back to school and running about. Enjoying the play time but not necessarily the work - just a normal wee boy."

Donncha was so excited leading up to the trip that he couldn't sleep.

He said: “We were up at 4.30am on the Wednesday morning and we thought he'd sleep the whole way to Dublin but he slept a bit and was awake half an hour later and was up then 10 or 11 that night."

Donncha loved meeting Mickey Mouse and getting on all the rides in Disneyland.

"I’m not a great person for roller coasters or anything like that and he likes to scare me on them because he knows I'll get on to them with him. He’ll say ‘come on this one’s dead slow’, Daniel laughed.

"The roller-coasters were his favourite and anything that scared me.”

Daniel said for him it was nice to be able to see the children playing outside of a hospital setting.

“It was great to see them enjoying themselves playing outside of a hospital. It was good to see them not in that environment and to get away and really enjoy themselves."

Daniel said it was good for the parents too.

"We had a chat and it was relaxed, you talked abut different things. You could hear them having chats among each other saying 'that happened to us' and settling some fears.

"It was great to see the doctor and nurses out, we are past that stage where we are relying on the doctor and nurses, but for other families that were there, it was definitely reassuring for them having Dr McCarthy there and available if they were needed."

Jacqueline Wilkinson from the Children's Cancer Unit Charity said: "There was a lot of planning involved in the trip and we received fantastic support from our corporate partners. All the effort was worthwhile and to see the smiles on the faces of the children and their parents and families, made it all worthwhile."

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