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How Daisy Lodge helped young Austin: 'It's a very odd feeling being told your child is likely to die... Narnia put a spring in his step and made him smile again'


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Mum and dad  Nicola, Kevin, Rothwell with Austin (white and black top), Ingrid, Bruce. Austin Rothwell from Kircubbin spent a year learning to walk again after his diagnosis in May 2018 with acute lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

Mum and dad Nicola, Kevin, Rothwell with Austin (white and black top), Ingrid, Bruce. Austin Rothwell from Kircubbin spent a year learning to walk again after his diagnosis in May 2018 with acute lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell with sister Ingrid and brother Bruce.

Austin Rothwell with sister Ingrid and brother Bruce.

The 3,000 square foot log cabin located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle

The 3,000 square foot log cabin located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle

Mum and dad Nicola, Kevin, Rothwell with Austin (white and black top), Ingrid, Bruce. Austin Rothwell from Kircubbin spent a year learning to walk again after his diagnosis in May 2018 with acute lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

The magic of 'Narnia' restored the spirits of a 12-year-old Co Down boy after a traumatic life and death battle with cancer over the past two years.

Austin Rothwell from Kircubbin spent a year learning to walk again after his diagnosis in May 2018 with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

At one stage his parents were advised to prepare for the worst as their son's life hung by a thread during a terrifying three months in intensive care. Austin recovered physically after a lengthy battle but it wasn't until he went to a residential centre for children with cancer called Narnia that his parents saw their son's smile return.

Narnia is a log cabin in the woods within the Daisy Lodge complex in Newcastle which offers much-needed respite breaks for families of children with cancer and is run by the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children.

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The 3,000 square foot log cabin located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle

The 3,000 square foot log cabin located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle

The 3,000 square foot log cabin located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle

But just as this special place gave Austin a reason to feel joy again, Covid-19 struck and cut him off from his new friends.

In an inspiring story shared during Children's Cancer Month which runs throughout September, Austin's mum Nicola (42) highlights the importance of the support from the charity who continued to help Austin cope during lockdown.

Nicola says: "If I could bottle the feeling that Cancer Fund for Children's support has given my family, it would be stockpiled like hand sanitiser and hard to find.

"I had actually forgotten what my son was like before his cancer diagnosis. Being at Narnia lit a spark in my boy that I had not seen in a very long time.

"For the first time in a long time I saw Austin as a 12-year-old boy. His shoulders were light, and he was actually living and loving life. This feeling came home with him. It spread and we saw a real difference in him."

Austin is the oldest of three children. He has a brother Bruce (7) and sister Ingrid who is 10. His father Kevin (40) has become his main carer.

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Austin Rothwell with sister Ingrid and brother Bruce.

Austin Rothwell with sister Ingrid and brother Bruce.

Austin Rothwell with sister Ingrid and brother Bruce.

It was the day after his 11th birthday on May 29, 2018, that he came home from school and discovered a lump on his neck. He also had swollen glands at the back of his head and bruising on his back.

His mum took him to his GP who took a blood sample. Later that evening the family got a call from the doctor breaking the news that Austin had leukaemia.

They were advised to take their son to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children where induction chemotherapy started immediately.

Austin had a central line put in and his hair began to fall out as he faced five weeks of treatment.

It was during the last week of the chemotherapy that he suddenly took very ill and was rushed to ICU.

Nicola recalls: "The next three months became the darkest days and I still can't believe we actually lived them.

"Austin deteriorated fast and was ventilated.

"He had developed sepsis and was extremely unwell. The source of infection was his bowel. Surgery was a possible solution, but Austin was too sick for surgery.

"There came a point where Kevin and I were told that the chances of Austin surviving were very slim, and that we must prepare ourselves for the worst. It is a very odd feeling being told your child is likely to die."

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Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell

Austin's distraught parents were then told the only thing that could save their son was surgery but that it too could cost him his life.

Mum Nicola reveals: "We decided to give the surgery a chance. We owed that to our beautiful boy. Eight long hours went by. We sat in the quiet room and prayed. We had people all over the world praying during Austin's surgery.

"Afterwards, the doctors explained that they almost lost him on several occasions."

Their ordeal was not over yet and during the next seven days Austin had to go into theatre four more times, each time with the understanding that he might not make it.

Then finally after three very long months Austin was taken off the ventilator.

He spent the next year learning how to walk as his time in ICU had caused his muscles to atrophy. He was unable to eat and was tube-fed for many months.

Austin is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment which will continue until next July.

Before his cancer diagnosis he had suffered from anxiety and being dependent on a wheelchair for a year left a huge dent in his confidence.

This is where the NI Cancer Fund for Children has made an invaluable difference to his emotional recovery and well-being. A residential at the charity's Daisy Lodge centre transformed him as his mum explains: "It was a two-night residential where the young people, along with their cancer support specialists, have fun, play games and talk.

"He came home and started to count down the days to the next one. The young people started a WhatsApp group and a phone that lay uncharged for a year was suddenly pinging every few minutes.

"I could hear him giggle and he had a real spring in his step. He had the best time of his life."

Covid-19 came just as Austin was about to go on his second residential but again the NI Cancer Fund for Children stepped in and has been a lifeline during the past months.

Nicola says: "To say Austin was devastated is an understatement. I was also very sad because I knew the transformative impact getting away would have on him.

"I really wondered how Cancer Fund for Children could continue to offer support.

"Within days a Zoom meeting was set up. I was a little unsure how Austin would respond, but two hours later he emerged from his room beaming. I totally underestimated how important social contact of this kind was to Austin.

"He has had a weekly Zoom chat with the charity's cancer support specialists ever since. The other night he was on the phone for two hours and came out so happy."

The family was just beginning to emerge from months of isolation to protect Austin during his treatment when once again they were forced to shut off from the world because of the pandemic.

To keep him safe no one left the house at all for five months and even now as a family they continue to be careful

.

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Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell

Austin Rothwell

A trip to Daisy Lodge at the end of August gave the whole family a much-needed lift following their many weeks of isolation.

Nicola, who feels indebted to the charity, tells us: "There are lots of families like ours and we are not alone. Cancer Fund for Children has helped us to learn how to live with cancer. Thanks to the charity's support we were able to put cancer on the back burner and joy, laughter and relaxation came to the forefront."

With fundraising events cancelled due to the pandemic, Nicola urged people to continue to support the charity.

She adds: "We are living in unprecedented times and because charity events cannot happen right now, donations are not coming in.

"Even in these strange times Cancer Fund for Children is offering light in the darkness.

"Your donations are so important in ensuring their work continues. Please help our children be children and learn to laugh and love again."

For more information or to support the charity, go to www.cancerfundforchildren.com

Sunday Life