Cancer centre celebrates milestone five years of service

Cancer centre celebrates milestone five years of service

11 September 2019

THE Cancer Fund for Children is celebrating five years of providing therapeutic short breaks to children and families impacted by cancer at its Daisy Lodge facility in Newcastle.

Set in a stunning location, the therapeutic short break facility —which is the first of its kind in the UK and Ireland — was officially opened by Rory McIlroy in October 2014. 

Since then, Cancer Fund for Children has provided 2,140 families and just over 5,000  children and young people from across Ireland with a free therapeutic short break. This includes families nursing a child with cancer, families where a parent has cancer and bereaved families.

Nola Harrison from Hillsborough and her daughter Zara (15) are one of a number of families helping the Cancer Fund for Children to mark this significant milestone by sharing their experience of cancer.

Nola says her daughter Zara (Barnett) was able to smile again thanks to the specialist support she received at Daisy Lodge.

“Zara was 11 when we found out she had cancer in September 2015,” said her mum.

“We had just been enjoying the days of our summer holidays when we noticed she was very tired and not her usual self.  She was normally a very strong and athletic young girl so we knew something wasn’t quite right.

“I phoned the doctor as soon as we got home and he referred us to the Royal Victoria Hospital to get some blood tests done. It was later that day when Zara’s results came back and they told us she had leukaemia. When I heard the word, I didn’t know much about it. I was very scared and thought surely this must be a mistake.”

Nola said the reality of the situation really hit them sitting in a grey hospital room. She said Zara should have been starting her first day back at school.

“Things started to change for Zara very quickly during her first round of treatment,” her mum continued. “She became really sick, wasn’t able to eat very much and with the chemotherapy we knew she was going to lose her hair, so she bravely decided to have it all shaved off. 

“It was a tough time for all the family. Zara has two brothers, Harrison and Zac and a sister Juliette and during those first few weeks they didn’t get to see Zara or I very much.”

It was during this traumatic time that the Harrison family were introduced to Cancer Fund for Children, with Nola describing Daisy Lodge as the family’s ‘sanctuary’ and somewhere they could relax, after the stresses of Zara’s treatment.  

“We came to Daisy Lodge straight from hospital where Zara had been having treatment for six months.  She still wasn’t very well at that time so she was in a wheelchair and had a feeding tube, but we were so excited to be out of hospital,” her mum recalled.

“When we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms; Zara was no longer a patient she was just Zara. Daisy Lodge quickly became our retreat away from hospital, our safe place. 

“In the hospital environment Zara was so sick.She wasn’t talking to anyone and didn’t make eye contact. She had totally closed down.

“When we got to Daisy Lodge she relaxed immediately and started to open up and talk to the charity’s cancer support specialist. That first weekend they did arts and crafts together, and she loved it.”

Nola now volunteers for Cancer Fund for Children in the spa and wellbeing room at Daisy Lodge, using her skills to give back and help families going through a similar experience.

She continued: “When we went to Daisy Lodge, we felt a lightness and we always came away feeling more energised and hopeful. I think my standout memory was seeing Zara laughing with the other children.  

“When she was diagnosed, it was like a part of her disappeared. I just remember her sitting in front of the fire at Daisy Lodge and just smiling. She found her spirit again. It’s phenomenal that Cancer Fund for Children has supported 2,140 families like ours. During cancer treatment it is just so important to have this special place to spend family time together.”

Zara, who is now in fourth year at Victoria College in Belfast studying for her GCSEs added: “At Daisy Lodge I was the same as everyone else. In other places I felt self-conscious about people looking at me, but I just felt so comfortable here. 

“It was the first place I walked around without a bandana on. I also made friends with other young people who I could relate to and talk about my experiences with.”

Cancer Fund for Children chief executive, Phil Alexander, said a safe, positive and nurturing environment has been created at Daisy Lodge, something he has not seen anywhere else.

“The overwhelming feedback that we have received from families following their short break is that they feel less anxious, they were able to relax and recuperate and that they value spending this time together as a family unit,” he said.

“As a team we are always moving forward, reflecting on what we are doing and aiming to improve the services we provide.  It is a privilege to get to know so many families who trust us to support them throughout their cancer diagnosis.”

Phil added: “We will continue to support thousands more children and parents impacted by cancer in the years to come and help them create special memories together. None of this would be possible without the amazing support we receive from the local community and businesses and we want to thank people across Northern Ireland for their continued generosity and support.”