In News, Therapeutic Short Breaks

This year Cancer Fund for Children is celebrating five years of providing therapeutic short breaks to children and families impacted by cancer.

Our therapeutic short break facility, Daisy Lodge in Newcastle Co. Down,was officially opened by Rory McIlroy MBE in October 2014. Since then we have provided 2,140 families and 5,012 children and young people from Northern Ireland and 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) and Barbara Rooney from Newry are helping us mark this significant milestone by sharing their experience of cancer.

Nola’s Story

Nola says that her daughter Zara was able to smile again thanks to the specialist support she received from Cancer Fund for Children at Daisy Lodge.

Speaking about Zara’s experience in Daisy Lodge,  Nola says,

Nola and Zara

“Zara was 11 years old when we found out she had cancer in September 2015.  We had just been enjoying the days of our summer holidays at the Caravan Park in Kilkeel 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 blood tests came back, that they told us Zara 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.

The reality of the situation really hit us when we were sitting in this grey hospital room.  Zara should have been starting her first day back at school and thinking about putting her uniform on, getting the bus to school, getting her timetable.

Things started to change for Zara very quickly during her first round of treatment.  She became really sick.  She 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 time that the family were introduced to Cancer Fund for Children.  Nola describes our short break facility as the family’s ‘sanctuary’ and somewhere they could relax, after the stresses of Zara’s treatment.  She says,

“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.  When we arrived at Daisy Lodge we were welcomed with open arms. Zara was no longer a patient, she was just Zara.

It quickly became our retreat away from hospital, our safe place.  In the hospital environment Zara was so sick.  She wasn’t talking to anyone, she didn’t make eye contact.  She had totally closed down.  When we got to Daisy Lodge though, she relaxed immediately and she 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.

The food was so nourishing.  Zara hadn’t been eating well because she had been so sick with the treatment.  When this gorgeous food was set down in front of her, I think it opened her eyes, and she started to eat.  That was such a relief for me because up until then I felt so much pressure for her to eat something.”

Nola, who now volunteers in the Spa and Wellbeing room at Daisy Lodge, is using her skills to give back and help families going through a similar experience.  She says,

“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 Zara 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, Belfast and is studying for her GCSES adds,

“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.”

Barbara’s Story

Barbara Rooney  was diagnosed with aggressive HER2 positive breast cancer in July 2017.  She says that the specialist support she received from Cancer Fund for Children at Daisy Lodge was invaluable to her and her children during her treatment.

Speaking about her experience in Daisy Lodge, Barbara says,

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer my older children Leah (23), John (22) and Sophie (19) were able to support and talk to each other.  My middle son James (13) is quiet and kept himself to himself but my youngest boy Pierce (10) who was eight years old at the time took the news really badly.  He had to be given special attention in school because he found it really hard to deal with me having cancer.”

Barbara describes our short break facility as a serenity,

“I found out about Cancer Fund for Children from a Macmillan nurse.  At the time my head was crazy.  I think I was dealing with the shock of my diagnosis and with the children. Regina from Cancer Fund for Children came out to visit me and explained the support that was available.  She dealt with everything for me and then I got the call inviting me to come for a short break.

Barbara, sons, granddaugther and friend

My therapeutic short break was just fabulous.  As soon as we walked through the doors of Daisy Lodge the kids felt comfortable.  The facilities for children are amazing.  They had so much fun playing in the games room and were able to interact with other children who also had a parent with cancer. They were just so happy there.

As I’m on my own, I was able to bring my good friend Sandra with me as she was a massive support to me throughout my treatment.  I was able to relax.  I was away from home, away from worry, away from sickness.  I was able to relax because the kids were with me and they were content. I was able to speak to other people who had been through a similar experience and how they coped with their cancer.

Cancer Fund for Children’s staff are just so wonderful and caring.  They go out of their way to help you.  It has just been a wonderful experience from the holistic treatments and complementary therapies, to the food and the ambiance.”

Barbara who has now finished her treatment adds,

“I look back and think how I did it!  Having a short break in Daisy Lodge was so beneficial. It made me realise I’m not the only one going through this.  There are so many families dealing with cancer.  I think it’s amazing that Cancer Fund for Children has provided short breaks to 2,140 families.  Now that I have experienced cancer and the support that the charity provides I know just how essential therapeutic short breaks are.”

Speaking about the impact of reaching this five year milestone Cancer Fund for Children CEO, Phil Alexander says,

Phil Alexander

“At Daisy Lodge, we have created a safe, positive and nurturing environment that I have not seen anywhere else. The overwhelming feedback that we have received from families following their short break is that they feel less anxious, they are able to relax and recuperate and that they value spending this time together as a family unit.

As well as supporting thousands of families, there have been many memorable moments over the last five years, not least Rory McIlroy officially opening our facility in October 2014. Then we had Northern Ireland players meeting young people and their families following the team’s Euro 2016 campaign, Ireland Captain and Cancer Fund for Children Ambassador Rory Best visiting Daisy Lodge with the Six Nations trophy in 2018 and our amazing team of Volunteers being presented with the Queens Award for Voluntary Service just last year.

As a team we are always moving forward 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.  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.”

Cancer Fund for Children understands the devastating impact a cancer diagnosis and it’s treatment has on the whole family, and that beyond the essential medical care there is a family life that needs to be rebuilt.  Find out more about our therapeutic short breaks here or how to get involved in fundraising here.


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