Lucy Roberts was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer earlier this year
The Fermanagh parents of a young girl who was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer have urged the public to support a charity close to their hearts.
Alan and Caroline Roberts’ daughter Lucy, aged nine, started treatment for acute lymphoblastic lymphoma (ALL) after displaying symptoms in February.
Fortunately, Lucy is now entering the maintenance phase of her treatment, and the family, who live in Newtownbutler, are speaking about their experience to raise funds for the Cancer Fund for Children Christmas appeal.
Reflecting on her progress, Lucy said she was excited to celebrate the festive season this year.
“I’m really looking forward to our Christmas dinner and spending time with my family. What I want most from Santa is for a better 2022,” she said.
The charity supported the family after Lucy was diagnosed with ALL, explained Caroline.
“Lucy has always been a very healthy child, but back in February, she was having problems swallowing her meals,” she recalled.
"She said the lumps wouldn’t go down. We arranged a GP appointment, and he noticed a small swelling to Lucy’s neck. He asked a few questions on how Lucy had been over the past few months, and we agreed that Lucy was more tired than usual and had lost weight.
"We left the appointment thinking it was likely that Lucy had an overactive thyroid.”
A subsequent X-ray, however, discovered it was much more serious, and treatment for ALL started immediately.
“As I heard the results, the words used were terrifying - mass, oncologist, treatment, Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. I remember thinking this is not good. I’d such a feeling of disbelief,” explained Caroline.
"Lucy was always a healthy girl. How could this be? How was I to phone my husband Alan and tell him this news? It really felt like I’d been hit by a train.
“The ambulance crew took us to the Haematology Unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.”
The first eight months of her daughter’s treatment were the intensive phase, involving chemotherapy, steroids, outpatient visits, theatre trips and hospital admissions due to the side effects of treatment.
“Our world as we knew it was changing very quickly. The days that followed were a blur of scans, tests, meeting the team, needles and more needles,” revealed the mum-of-two.
"The trauma that came with the needles and the blood tests will stay with us. Seeing the first chemo and cytotoxic medication being infused was hard to watch.
“We weren't able to mix with friends or family because of Lucy’s low immune system and risk of infection. At times, it felt like a lot of the fun in our lives as a family was lost. This was replaced by anxiety and emotional rollercoasters.
"Lucy was really upset when we told her she couldn’t go to school anymore, and Covid restrictions meant she couldn’t meet other children like her on a cancer journey, which left her feeling very isolated.”
Thankfully, she says the Cancer Fund for Children stepped in to help them.
“We felt great relief when Gareth, a cancer support specialist from Cancer Fund for Children, contacted us. He explained how they support families like ours. We weren’t alone,” said Caroline.
“With Covid restrictions still in place, Gareth started one-to-one sessions with Lucy on Zoom. It was great that she had somebody other than her dad and I to talk with.
“Lucy had become quiet and withdrawn within a short space of time, so having someone that understood was invaluable. Lucy looked forward to these Zoom sessions and found them helpful. I can’t tell you know good it was to hear her giggling and having fun again.”
Caroline continued: “When Covid restrictions allowed, Gareth was able to call to our home and spend time with Lucy. He equipped her with strategies to help manage her feelings and reassured her that these feelings were normal.
"Through his work with other children living with cancer, Gareth helped Lucy understand that she was not alone.”
Cancer Fund for Children offers families the opportunity to experience therapeutic short breaks at their centre, Daisy Lodge in Newcastle, Co Down, where Caroline says they are due to visit this month.
A visit had been planned for during the summer but it to be postponed after Lucy was admitted to hospital.
“We have been given a new date for our short break and are on the countdown... it will give us time away from our new normal,” insisted Caroline.
Urging the public to donate to the charity’s Santa Cause appeal, the mum added: “This Christmas, we’re looking forward to Lucy being as healthy as she can be and enjoying some family time together.
“I can’t imagine how we would have coped without Cancer Fund for Children’s support and would ask people to please make any donation they can, so they can help even more children like Lucy now and in the future.”
Donations can be made via cancerfundforchildren.com.