It helped my little girl to find herself again

Trips to Barretstown went a long way to helping Orna Curley (8) overcome Leukaemia.  Carmel (Orna’s mother) shares her story…

Orna had been unwell for a few weeks during June 2009; feeling very tired, no appetite, feeling pain and finally bruising for no apparent reason.  She had been to our GP a couple of times but once the bruises appeared we knew that this could be serious.

Orna had a blood test done 1st July 2009 and that afternoon we got a call that she needed to go to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital immediately.  She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and the next day she started chemotherapy.  It was a complete shock for all of us, and looking back at those early days, I think adrenaline and the support of Orna’s grandparents and aunts and uncles were the things that kept us functioning as parents.

We were advised that Orna’s form of leukaemia is very treatable, and that after two years of chemotherapy she had up to a 90% chance of survival.  This was very good news for us (despite the length of treatment required!).

Every one of my family got so much out of our time there and it really helped my little girl to find herself againOrna was almost 5 years old when she was diagnosed and at first it seemed like a bit of an adventure for her having to stay in hospital.  She was always a slightly mischievous and outgoing little girl and was happy to meet all the nurses and doctors.  However, as the days in hospital progressed and she had her Hickman Catheter (aka “Freddie”) put in place and each new drug was introduced, she became more subdued and was unresponsive to the hospital staff.  Eventually, her confidence became so low she would hardly make eye contact with or speak to them at all.

We heard about Barretstown through the hospital and booked a family weekend for October 2010.  We had heard some good things about Barretstown but didn’t really know what to expect.  What we didn’t expect was how a couple of days of having fun could have such an effect on Orna’s confidence.

She had a shaky start that weekend when she had to go on a group activity with other kids her age.  She found it very difficult to go with the Caras and leave her family for a couple of hours.  However, the Caras and leaders were fantastic and eventually persuaded her to join her group.  From that first activity and the others that followed during those couple of days, she changed from being shy and retiring to dancing on stage on the final day of our weekend!  As far as her confidence went, the weekend was a turning point and from that moment on we could see the sparkle gradually return to her eyes.

It was also great for Orna’s brother and sister who got to see that we weren’t the only family affected by such a serious illness.  For us as parents, it was amazing to be able to let Orna do her own thing for the weekend without one of us being constantly by her side.  It made us all feel like a normal family again.  It taught us that, in spite of everything, it is possible to let go and have fun. As a result of our time in Barretstown we now really try to make the most of the good days when Orna is feeling well and not suffering the after effects of chemotherapy.  We can’t wait to return to Barretstown!