A Londonderry schoolgirl has taken part in a red-carpet event to help celebrate the courage of children diagnosed with cancer.
Brooke McClafferty (13) was just seven weeks when she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer that stole her vision.
Even though most of her childhood has been overshadowed by the disease, the inspirational teenager dedicates her spare time to raising funds for research.
The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast is one of many centres across the UK taking part in ground-breaking clinical trials coordinated by Cancer Research UK’s Children’s Cancer Trials Team.
These trials make innovative new treatments available to children battling the condition.
During the pandemic and lockdowns, Brooke set up a wax melts business, Brooke Rose Aromas, which has raised £5,000 for Cancer Research UK.
She was thrilled to help launch this year’s Cancer Research UK’s Children and Young People Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx.
Brooke, who received the award in 2019, was one of 15 children invited to take to the red carpet for a unique virtual show calling for nominations which can be seen on YouTube.
Sunday Life is also delighted to once again team up with Cancer Research UK to help launch the awards, in which every child nominated is recognised, in Northern Ireland.
For Brooke, whose young life has been scarred by years of aggressive treatments and surgeries, winning a Star Award was a huge boost.
To celebrate, she attended a star-studded Christmas-themed party in London, hosted by Cancer Research UK.
This gave her the idea to do something to help raise funds for the charity.
Her mum Elaine explained: “Brooke loved the Star Awards party in London so much she came home and wanted to help support Cancer Research UK.
“She set up a lemonade stall at events in Derry and raised £1,000.
“Covid then came and she couldn’t sell lemonade, so we came up with the idea of making wax melts.
“Everyone was at home because of lockdown and we thought this would be something nice for them to burn in the house.
“So she set up an Instagram page and the Facebook page and takes orders every week.
“At the beginning of the summer, she was able to hand over £5,000 to Cancer Research UK which will be used to help other children. “
Brooke has spent a large part of her life in hospital. Diagnosed with retinoblastoma at just seven weeks old, it was the start of a long and traumatic journey for her and the rest of the McClafferty family — dad Seamus, sister Jade (26) and brother Cianan (20).
Brooke started chemotherapy in Belfast, but it didn’t work.
She was then given laser treatment on her eyes, which involved travelling to Dublin every fortnight for three years.
When she was three, the unthinkable happened and she had to have her right eye removed.
Her mum Elaine said: “There was a risk that the tumours could spread backwards into her brain.
“You just break down inside, but we knew it was something that had to happen, so she had the operation when she wasn’t even three years old.
“It was awful, completely horrific and, actually, it’s something we couldn’t even really talk about for years.
“She also had to have a second bout of chemotherapy, which was much tougher than the first.
“Brooke was so sick and she lost all her hair. She also had to be tube-fed and every night we would have to make sure the tube was in the right position and not in her lungs. You had that added stress.
“Her wee bowels were badly affected by the chemotherapy and her left eye was badly damaged by the laser treatment.
“She is actually registered blind because she only has her peripheral vision.
“The joints in her ankles were affected, so she couldn’t run about the way other children would. She still gets sore when walking. If we are going out for the day, she needs a wheelchair.
“Brooke has been so strong through everything and that’s what has given us the strength to get us through it. She’s just great and just gets on with it.”
The St Cecilia’s College pupil is a talented artist and has ambitions to become an illustrator.
In recognition of her work for charity, she was given the Cancer Research Young Volunteer of the Year UK and Northern Ireland award.
The organisation also invited her and other young cancer patients to take to the red carpet to launch this year’s Star Awards.
The footage recorded forms part of a wider video filmed to highlight the impact cancer has on young lives and to encourage more nominations for the awards.
The touching film sees the recipients deliver heart-warming acceptance speeches, strut their stuff on the red carpet and break out their best dance moves.
Elaine said: “Cancer Research sent Brooke a red carpet, a tripod and a camera. She really enjoyed making the video.
“She just wants to help somebody else, especially other wee ones going through what she went through.
“We are all planning as a family to do Race for Life this year and we hope to add to what Brooke has already raised by another £5,000.”
The video also features celebrities including Emma Thompson, TV personality Dr Ranj Singh, CBBC presenter Joe Tasker and Northern Ireland social media influencer Olivia Neill.
Olivia told Sunday Life: “It’s distressing to think that thousands of young people in the UK confront cancer every day.
“I have been humbled to hear so many incredible stories of courage in the face of this devastating disease, so I want to do everything I can to show my support.
“I’m urging people in Northern Ireland to get nominating now because the Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People Star Awards are such a wonderful way to pay tribute to these extraordinary children.”
The Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People Star Awards are open to anyone under the age of 18 who has been diagnosed with the disease in the last five years.
There is no judging panel because the charity believes every child diagnosed with cancer deserves special recognition.
Every eligible child who is nominated will receive a trophy, a £50 TK Maxx gift card, a T-shirt and a certificate signed by celebrities supporting the important campaign. Their siblings will also receive a certificate.
Clinical trials funded by Cancer Research can lead to new treatments for children battling the disease.
Charity spokeswoman Jean Walsh said: “Brooke is a real star who has been through so much at such a young age.
“It has been an absolute privilege to be able to celebrate her courage with a Star Award and to mark the occasion with a special show in these challenging times.
“Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults, from the types of cancer to the impact of treatment.
“Many youngsters may experience serious long-term side effects. That’s why we’re supporting dedicated research to ensure that more children and young people survive cancer with a good quality of life.
“We’re urging people in Northern Ireland to nominate inspirational children like Brooke now, so that many more can receive the acknowledgement they so richly deserve.”
The Star Awards are run in partnership with TK Maxx, the biggest corporate supporter of Cancer Research UK’s work into children and young people’s cancers.
Since 2004, the retailer has raised more than £40m for vital research to help improve survival and reduce the long-term side effects of treatments.
- To nominate a star, visit cruk.org/starawards. You can support Brooke’s fundraising efforts by buying a wax melt on Instagram or Facebook @Brookerosearomas