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Little boy's courage inspired a team of women to go on the run

By Kerry McKittrick

One of the best aspects of RunHer events is the feelgood factor that comes not just from completing the race, but also from doing something that will help someone else — raising money for charity.

And one of the special stories behind next Friday’s RunHer Coastal 10K at Seapark in Holywood, will see a group of women pounding the route to raise cash to help children fight cancer.

What inspired them? One of the ladies suggested they take part in RunHer — and one of her colleagues then said she knew of a little boy who has been waging a heroic battle against leukaemia and that they should boost the coffers of the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children.

Consequently, it will be six-year-old Charlie McCrea who will inspire the women from Industrial Temps as they pound along the coastal path from Seapark in Holywood to Crawsfordsburn Country Park.

And NICFFC is just one of many charities that will be benefiting from next week’s great event.

Open to women of all ages and abilities, the course can be walked or run — and hopefully all will take place in glorious sunshine.

This year, organisers are going all out to make it an evening to remember.

As well as the traditional water and banana at the finish line for those taking part , there will be a barbecue and live entertainment from local songwriter, Amanda Agnew, for those resting their weary legs.

There’s still time to enter — and to inspire you, one of the Industrial Temps’ women and Charlie’s mum tell their stories.

Carla Bowyer (23) is a marketing recruitment executive for Industrial Temps. She lives in Belfast. Carla says:

I used to work for Pure Running so I know all about RunHer and have always been involved in the event. I had only been at Industrial Temps for about a month when I got chatting to people about fitness and healthy eating. I suggested to them that we should get a team together for RunHer, as it was something that everyone could do.

People from all of the Industrial Temps branches have signed up to it. It's something we can all work towards together and some of the girls even go out on their lunch hour for a spot of training. In total, 14 of us will take part — some people are running and others are walking. Everyone is taking it at their own pace.

I used to work at the event and it's something I still want to be involved with. It's always a lovely occasion — all women together. I also don’t find it as as competitive as other runs — I'm part of a running club so I've taken part in different events. Everyone can take part and you see mums with prams, aunts and grannies. Even at the finish line, there's a barbecue, ice-cream and a bouncy castle for the kids so it's a great day out.

You can choose who to raise money for and we wanted to choose a charity that's close to home.

Nicola Waide, the operations director, told us about her friend Emma and her little boy with leukaemia. A friend of mine's son has been diagnosed with the same thing so it seemed right that we raise money for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund For Children. It's something that's close to our hearts.”

Emma McCrea (37) works as manager of a day centre for adults with special needs and lives in Belfast with her husband Terry and their son Charlie (6). Terry also has a son, Barry (14), from a previous relationship. Emma says:

Charlie was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was seven months old. From the age of five-and-a-half months he was constantly presenting with fevers. We were back and forth from A&E, where they kept giving us antibiotics and telling us it was an infection, but they never took bloods from him, as it wouldn't have told them where the infection was. The fever would go away for 10 days and come back again.

This carried on for about six weeks until one night, Charlie was very ill. He had a fever and his skin turned yellow. We went to the out of hours doctor and he sent me immediately to the Royal. They finally took blood from Charlie at 9.30pm that night and by 11.30pm they told me he had leukaemia.

It was confirmed the next day with a bone marrow extraction that it was acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I had feared that he had meningitis, but being told he had cancer wasn't a relief, obviously. Never in a million years do you expect to hear that about your baby.

When he was first diagnosed they told me that he was very, very ill and that his life was at risk. The average age children are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is when they are four to five years old and they have a better chance of fighting it, thanks to medical advances. Because Charlie was so young, he was at much higher risk.

At that stage, they said he needed quite aggressive chemotherapy. He was diagnosed on June 30, 2008, and the chemo started the next day. We were told all about the possible side effects of the chemo – that it could even cause secondary cancers and infertility – but we had no choice.

We basically lived in the Royal for the next eight weeks. Charlie was very sick and had to be fed by a tube. At that age he should have been being introduced to food from the bottle, so he missed out on that stage of discovering new textures and learning how to chew.

Even now, he won't eat meat or sauces because he doesn't like the texture.

As well as the chemo, he had blood transfusions and IV antibiotics for infections, so there were a lot of treatments.

While we were on the ward the social worker gave us leaflets about different charities that we could turn to and one of them was the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund For Children. We applied for a heating grant of £200 at that point, but we didn't turn to them for much else then.

Charlie got out of hospital in January 2009 and we had to give him oral chemotherapy at home every day with two weekly checks. At that point, the doctors weren't really saying anything. As for ourselves, we took it day by day – we didn't talk about next week, we just focused on each day as it came. Charlie even started to eat little bits and pieces and put on some weight.

He did well until September 2009 and over that summer we had our first experience of Shimna – the holiday home provided by the NICFFC.

Words can't describe what a wonderful place it is. You stay there with other families and there are stunning views over Tollymore Forest. As soon as you arrive, a weight is lifted off your shoulders – you just start to relax. You get passes to go to the local forest parks and there's even someone to do the cooking for you.

Being in a relaxed environment with other families who understand what you're going through does wonders, as you can really talk about what you've been through.

Then, in September, I noticed when Charlie was in the bath that his testicles appeared swollen. We brought him back to hospital the next day. They told us it was likely that it was a relapse and the leukaemia had spread to his lymph nodes and testicles. I hadn't even considered the possibility of a relapse – to me it was bad enough coming to terms that he had been diagnosed with cancer in the first place.

Charlie was brought into theatre for a biopsy, which confirmed he had suffered a relapse. They gave his chances of survival as 15% and his only hope was a bone marrow transplant.

We started searching for a donor – neither myself, my husband Terry or Charlie's half-brother Barry were a match, because we all only shared half of his DNA. We were also told that before any bone marrow transplant could take place, Charlie would need intense chemo which would be so strong he could end up in intensive care and it might even kill him.

Deciding to go ahead with all this was a tough decision for us to make. We knew how hard it was on him the first time, but if we didn't agree to this treatment he would only have six to eight weeks to live. For me, if there was even a 1% chance for Charlie, then we had to give him his chance.

A donor was found in Germany – we don't know anything about them other than that he was male, but we could send a thank-you card as long as we didn't send any details about Charlie.

Charlie survived the chemotherapy and he was able to have the bone marrow transplant over in Bristol when he was two. He was very sick because of the chemo, but was able to come home four months later.

It was a difficult time, because we were away from home. It was hard for Charlie's brother, Barry, too, but Terry's sister brought him over a couple of times to visit.

When we came back to Belfast Charlie had to have radiotherapy on his testicles and the treatment has rendered him infertile.

However, otherwise he has been well ever since. He still has a feeding tube and takes antibiotics. He has no immune system at all and has transfusions of immunoglobulin once a fortnight. They don't know if that situation will ever improve. I'm just grateful that he's here and we can cope with an hour's treatment every two weeks.

I don't know what Charlie remembers from when he was ill. I took a lot of photos when he was in hospital, as we didn't know what his future was and we had a couple of them round the house, but Charlie asked me to take them all down a little while ago.

I don't bring the time he was so ill up with him but he hates going to the hospital. I'll probably sit down and talk about it with him when he's older.

I don't know what his prognosis is now. The doctors still don't talk about it, but our check-ups are down to every four months and a check-up in Bristol once a year. Next year will be his five-year mark after his transplant. We're still just living day by day.

We've also used the NICFFC facilities in Coleraine – that is a self-catering cottage and it was great too. And we've had a support worker, Anne Gordon, who spends some time with Charlie.

Initially I was a little concerned about having someone come to our house, but within two weeks I realised how important Anne was.

Charlie loves her and always wants to know what she has in her bag when she visits and it gives me a chance to do some cleaning and bits of washing. I would consider her a friend of the family now.

I know Nicola Waide of Industrial Temps from college and I was so touched when she told us so many women at Industrial Temps were taking part in RunHer to raise money for the cancer fund. It means a great deal."

You can do it too!

  • RunHer starts on Friday, May 23 at 7pm at Seapark in Holywood. It's an all-women event open to any ability and can be walked or run. There will be staggered starts according to ability
  • Registration is currently online, the cost is £18 and includes a T-shirt and goody bag. Bag collection will start on Wednesday, May 21, at Pure Running in Wellington Place. Late registration will be available on the day
  • On the day there will be shuttle buses from the finish line back to the start, on-site massage and a DJ plus children's entertainment
  • For updates see Twitter @runherofficial, Facebook RunHer Running or go to

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