Summer is a time of fun and holidays for most families, but it can be particularly hard for families living with a serious illness. The Fitzgerald Family share their Barretstown story to help raise awareness and funds so that Barretstown can bring even more children living with cancer to experience the magic of camp. Please DONATE today.
Conor was only twelve years old when he was diagnosed with Leukaemia. He was on a big family summer holiday in Spain, two weeks from starting secondary school, when he became ill. His parents thought it was heat stroke. So they brought Conor to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a tumour in his chest.
As you can well imagine, receiving a cancer diagnosis is traumatic enough. But can you imagine being told by doctors in a foreign language, and in a foreign country, that your child has cancer? Conor’s parents did their best on the flight home to pretend everything was okay, when in reality they were fearing the worst.
It was the start of a tough journey for Conor and his family. One that would take its toll on Conor both physically and mentally. You see cancer doesn’t just attack a child’s body, it damages their confidence and their self-esteem too.
Conor got really upset when they got home from Spain, because his mam told him he had to go to hospital and miss his first day of secondary school. All Conor wanted to do was start school. After being checked into Temple Street, his doctors sent him to Crumlin. Conor had Leukaemia and he had to start cancer treatment immediately. Cancer kept Conor out of school, and away from his friends for eight and a half months. He started going into a shell. He couldn’t go anywhere except to hospital.
We couldn’t bring Conor anywhere. Because he had to have his tablets, get his bloods checked… everything revolved around hospitals and medicines.
His treatment wore him down. He didn’t have the energy to leave the house. And even if he wanted to, he’d risk picking up an infection that could put him back in the
hospital. Conor retreated further into his shell. But then he came to Barretstown and something magical happened.
We had to put on a show one night. And Conor wasn’t up for getting involved. He just kept saying ‘OH MY GOD!’ Next thing I turn around and there he was dressed up in an outfit dancing around! Barretstown lifted Conor up. After a couple of days at camp, he became outgoing. Conor was himself again.
When Conor heard about Barretstown, he didn’t want to go. He told his mam he didn’t want to go anywhere that had anything to do with cancer. But when he came he found out Barretstown isn’t about having an illness at all. It’s about having fun! Through our programme of activities – what we call Therapeutic Recreation – Conor started to get his self-confidence back. He started to believe in himself again. He met other children with serious illnesses who knew what he was going through. Conor found out he wasn’t alone. I think you’ll agree that children like Conor desperately need a bit of magic in their lives.
I’m happy to tell you that the magic Conor felt at Barretstown stayed with him long after he left camp. It was there when he started back at school last September. This is what his mam told us. He said to me, ‘I’m enjoying being back in school now because I don’t feel awkward anymore’. I think last year he felt people were looking at him. For the first time since he got sick I felt like I was back talking to my son. The big part of him, my funny, outgoing and happy boy that cancer had taken away, had returned. And I believe that Barretstown was the reason.”
When a child is fighting serious illness they forget what it means to be a child.
That’s when they need Barretstown.