Sinead O’Brien and her husband Kevin live in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary with their three daughters Emma (10), Abigail (9), and Penny (6). In June 2020 Penny was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer in her leg. Penny who is full of energy and loves to dance finished her chemotherapy on 26th March 2021.
Sinead is sharing Penny’s story to help us raise awareness of the need for a new therapeutic short break centre, Daisy Lodge, in Cong Co. Mayo.
“A few of weeks before Penny was diagnosed with cancer she was complaining about a pain in her leg.
About two weeks after Penny first told us that her leg was very sore, we were out walking with friends. Like many people, we had been going for walks every day because of COVID. That day I had to carry Penny around, which just wasn’t like her. She is a very active child and is really into dancing.
When I came home that night, I told Kevin that Penny had been complaining about the pain in her leg and I put my hand on her leg I could feel it was hard.
Kevin’s best friend John is a physiotherapist, so we took Penny to see him. He was concerned and told us she needed an MRI.
John rang our GP to explain that we were very concerned, and we needed to go to our local hospital to get it checked out. I flew with Penny to A&E on my own because of COVID restrictions. She had an X-ray and within an hour I was told that Penny had cancer.
It was just horrendous. I had to ring Kevin to tell him to come to the hospital to meet us and I told him outside in the corridors that Penny had cancer. It was absolutely awful.
Penny’s diagnosis definitely affected her sisters more than her. She was so young. Penny was asking me one day about the other kids on the ward and whether they had a lump on their leg as she did. I told her that yes, they have cancer too, but Penny said, ‘But I don’t have real cancer.’ She didn’t understand what was going on.
I feel her diagnosis has had more of an impact on Emma and Abigail because her treatment was so intense. It was a three-week cycle. We would go into hospital on a Sunday night, you might get home on Thursday. Then your back up at the hospital the following Sunday night, then out again on Thursday. We would then get two weeks off, but those two weeks were tough – it’s the temperatures, the nose bleeds, then rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night. Penny would always have either Kevin or me with her. I always felt this was harder on her sisters.
When we were driving to Daisy Lodge, I couldn’t believe we had to go there, not because we didn’t want to. I just couldn’t believe that cancer had happened to us and we needed this support. But as soon as we got there and parked the car, I knew our short break was going to be fabulous.
Going to Daisy Lodge was the first time the five of us had been in a car together in ten months. We got to spend time together that we hadn’t had in such a long time and we left Daisy Lodge with a spring in our step.
I have three giddy girls. They laughed the whole way through the short break. I had tears I was laughing so much. I honestly can’t remember the last time the five of us laughed like that. We went to the beach, did yoga, and took part in arts and crafts, which was just gorgeous. It really was the first time the five of us actually got to spend proper time together. Our therapeutic short break gave us time back.
Another Daisy Lodge would make a huge difference to families like ours. We have nothing like this near us and it would help knowing there is somewhere like this to support them. To have another short break centre in Mayo would give families living with childhood cancer a little bit of normality. We felt normal at Daisy Lodge. We weren’t a cancer family when we were there. The other kids looked exactly like Penny. They had short hair too.
Penny is doing great now. She went back to school full time after Easter. I don’t know where she gets her energy from. It’s been lovely now that COVID restrictions are easing. We are able to see family who we haven’t seen since Christmas.
We are so grateful to Sinead for sharing her story. Families of children with cancer in Ireland have waited too long for a dedicated centre like Daisy Lodge.
Our site in Mayo is currently a field of dreams in a COVID World. To support our capital appeal for Daisy Lodge Mayo and help us ensure that children don’t have to face cancer alone, please email our Ireland Relationship Manager, Belinda Kearns e: email@example.com to find out more or join our Daisy Chain fundraising campaign here.