The impact of a child cancer diagnosis can be hugely upsetting for the siblings of those diagnosed and it’s important they too are supported through treatment – that was the message this morning as Conor Maguire, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia aged just 15 months, and his elder brother Senán launched the ‘Save a Seat for Conor’ campaign to help raise vital funds for the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity.
The brothers got involved, along with their Mum and Dad, Catherine and Ciaran and younger sister Méabh, to raise awareness of childhood cancer in Northern Ireland and the impact a diagnosis has on all the family. The campaign urges the public to consider donating the price of a Christmas dinner or night out to help children with cancer and their families this Christmas.
Young Conor, from Belfast was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia aged just 15 months when his elder brother Senán had just turned 5. Conor’s Mum Catherine said the diagnosis was felt deeply by everyone in the family:
“A cancer diagnosis for a child is devastating for any family and we were shocked to be told that Conor, who at that stage had only been walking for a month, now had leukaemia which required intensive chemotherapy initially for 6 months, involving a lot of time in hospital, followed by maintenance chemotherapy for 3 years. As adults we understood what was going on but for Senán, who had just turned 5, that time was fraught with fear and confusion for him about his little brother’s health.
“Support from medical teams, play specialists and child psychologists funded by the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity, as well as family days out supported by the charity, really helped us support both our sons as Conor went through his difficult treatment. We’re delighted with Conor’s recovery, and are looking forward to Christmas with our sons and our younger daughter Méabh.
“As the mum of a boy who had cancer, words cannot describe my gratitude for the work of the doctors, nurses and all the staff and the support given by the charity and I’m asking everyone to give a small amount to the Save a Seat for Conor campaign,” she added.
Naomi Spence is the community play specialist who works with children who are diagnosed with cancer and their siblings. She says that a cancer diagnosis for one child affects all children in a family but there are many ways to provide support:
“Funding from the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity allows our team to purchase equipment, specialist toys and educational aids to help children and their siblings through cancer diagnosis and treatment. We support the whole family, visiting bedsides at hospital or living rooms in their homes – wherever they need us – so that right through a child’s journey they feel supported and comforted by us, but also their family including their brothers and sisters.”
Between 60-70 children are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland every year. Each one of these children will visit the Children’s Cancer Unit at the Royal as it’s the only place in NI to receive specialist treatment for cancer and blood disorders.
A 2016 study found that siblings of children with cancer were likely to spend less time at school, with friends or enjoying extra-curricular activities and more likely to have trouble concentrating and to experience disrupted routines.
To donate £5 to the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity, text CCUC to 70085. Texts cost £5 plus one standard rate message. More information on the work of the charity and the Save A Seat for Conor campaign can be found at www.childrenscancerunit.com.