Belfast Telegraph

The little fighter who united all of us in his corner

By Ivan Little

He was Glengormley's tiny superman who won thousands of hearts around the world but who lost his inspirational yet ultimately unwinnable battle against an unpronounceable cancer that he fought with near superhuman courage and a beguiling smile.

Wee Oscar – his surname was almost superfluous – slipped away in a hospice on Thursday but his parents didn't announce his death until yesterday. And such was the shock and grief all around Northern Ireland that his passing pushed the long-awaited Giro d'Italia cycle race down the running order of local news bulletins.

For two-and-a-half years wee Oscar made hard-bitten Northern Ireland believe in miracles as he struggled to recover from neuroblastoma, with which he was first diagnosed in November 2011.

All the while the angelic face of the little boy who loved pizza, Sugar Puffs and Scooby Doo had belied the pain and suffering he was enduring, though his ever-present oxygen tube told the real story.

The gutsy five-year-old with the extra-large fighting spirit brought together a province where for once no one gave a damn about religion or political labels.

Everyone was on wee Oscar's side and Rangers fans joined their Celtic rivals to collect thousands of pounds for his appeal fund, even after he donned the green and white hooped jersey to lead his idols on to the Parkhead pitch for a European game against his Cliftonville.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness rallied to the cause of Team Oscar and invited him to their offices in Stormont where his mischief caused havoc, but the two ministers spoke of how he won them over in an instant. Unusually, there was no sense that their teeth were gritted as they stood side by side to praise him.

Wee Oscar's love of life was infectious. He didn't know any other way to behave. He loved fun, and quite appropriately for a born scrapper, he loved boxing.

And boxers loved him back. Champion fighters Paddy Barnes and Carl Frampton were always in his corner and watched in awe as the underdog bounced back off the ropes to apparently beat the cancer after a trip for specialist immunotherapy treatment to America two years ago.

The all-clear he received in April last year was music to Northern Irish ears. It brought a glow to the province, which was in the midst of the violent flag crisis in Belfast.

Wee Oscar also became an internet phenomenon, beloved of tens of thousands of global followers on social media like Facebook and Twitter, which his family used to not only update his condition, but also to increase awareness about his rare cancer.

But even amid all the euphoria surrounding wee Oscar, the big unspoken fear was always that the lovable youngster might suffer a relapse.

And sure enough, the dreaded cancer did come back a few months after he'd been given his positive prognosis.

His Twitter fans, including world-famous wrestlers like Triple H and The Rock, wished him well, but their hearts were broken after it quickly became clear that not even the indomitable wee Oscar could overcome the disease for a second time.

That reality was underlined with the news that his remarkable parents Stephen and Leona had had to move him into the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.

They said they had been pushed to the limit of what any parent could tolerate in terms of watching their child suffer. And suffer he did.

But the wee warrior didn't succumb without yet another fight. And on Twitter he was pictured in his Superman outfit walking towards the camera. With a smile, of course.

"I got back on my feet and walked 20 metres today, everyone was SO proud of me," said the tweet which accompanied the photograph.

But, even so, everyone knew that the end of wee Oscar's astonishing life was imminent.

The inevitability of his death hasn't made his passing any easier to bear for his family, his medics, or the countless people who, though they'd never met him, felt that he was one or their own. His parents have said they want his funeral tomorrow at St Bernard's Church in Glengormley to be an upbeat celebration of his all too short life and of everything he achieved.

They've said everyone will be welcome and they've urged people to wear bright colours, including football and sports tops.

Around the same time tomorrow thousands of Ulster people will be saying addio to the cycling stars from the Giro whose names will probably escape them in a week or two.

At Glengormley they'll be bidding farewell to another hero who won't be forgotten quite so easily.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph