A mum who was told by doctors ‘lightning never strikes twice’ says she knew in her gut that her youngest daughter would be diagnosed with cancer – ten years after her son battled the same disease.
Noreen Doyle had a “gut feeling” after her daughter, Kate, began demonstrating familiar symptoms, aged 7.
“In my gut I knew, but I was in denial for three days,” she recalls. “She became very lethargic, she was having mild temperatures and falling asleep, and then I noticed some mild bruising on her leg, and she was very pale, they were very obvious symptoms.
“I brought her to my GP the same GP I had brought my son too, I told her this is crazy but I think we’re going down the same road again.”
Despite being comforted by her GP that “lightning never strikes twice,” Noreen knew the news was not going to be good, reports RSVP Live.
“The oncologist for both my children said we have just been unlucky, and that’s the only word to describe it,” Noreen says.
“It was a very unusual thing to happen, I think we are the only family in the country to have two kids diagnosed with exactly the same cancer, I think it’s something like 200 children a year are diagnosed with various childhood cancers and about 30 of those tend to be leukaemias and out of that I had two so it is quite rare.”
To ease Noreen’s fears, Kate was referred to Crumlin, where she asked them to go straight to the blood test.
“She was diagnosed within hours,” Noreen says. “That blood test is all it takes. I still had the oncologists number in my phone all those years later, I called him and the next morning he confirmed it was the same cancer that James had”.
Throughout Kate’s treatment Noreen’s mantra has been positivity but this wasn’t how she felt initially.
“At first I was just so p***ed off,” she admits.
“I was just so angry, I thought this was so unfair we have four kids and run two businesses and work so hard I just thought it was so unfair. We’re pretty normal people and I just thought this is really bad karma.”
And it wasn’t just the fears for her daughter’s future, but having been through it once, Noreen knew all too well how quickly treatment would ravage her daughter’s body.
“She was just weeks from getting her first communion and I knew what was ahead,” she recalls. “I knew she’d be on steroids straight away and that her dress wasn’t going to fit her and that she’d start losing her hair.”
However, Noreen and her husband made a decision to turn Kate’s cancer battle into a more positive experience and they made a promise to their daughter.
“We told her that while it wasn’t going to be easy we would make it as tolerable for her as we could and we really focused heavily on the positive” she explains.
“For every nasty procedure or awful chemo she had to go through we did something for her, we organised for her to meet Picture This, she went to see Niall Horan, I got some of the rugby lads to see her.
“When she would go into hospital for a longer stay I’d go with her and we’d do up her whole room in fairy lights and bring all her cuddly toys and her favourite blankets and make it really homely, those things for a little girl made a huge difference.”
It is ironic, Noreen admits, but for Kate, the last two and a half years of her cancer treatment now hold some of the best memories of her life.
“Those bad memories are now also mixed up with all these great memories. She kept all these fantastic momentos from the last two years and now at the end of it all she would actually tell you she had a good time because we really made a huge effort to make it that way,” Noreen explains.
Kate admits: “We were the lucky ones up there. Kate and James cancers were the preferable cancers to have.
“There are children we met along the way that didn’t make it, that is a nightmare, and it’s so hard to say to someone in that position to try and stay positive, but I know for a fact that the children feed from their parents positivity and if they feel secure and see you saying it’s ok, I do believe it helps them when things are really rough.”
While it may sound strange to some, Noreen also admits there was a sense of comfort in it being the second time the family were dealing with cancer.
She said: “This time as a family we were much more prepared for it, and myself and my husband were more together and stronger and we were more hopeful because we could say we’ve done this once and we’ve a gorgeous healthy son so we can do this a second time, she’ll be fine.”
Fast forward to today and Kate is now finishing her treatment after two and a half years and has had her last chemo, while older brother James is now 14 and happy and healthy.
But Noreen urges other mothers to always go with your instincts.
“A mother’s instinct is really to be trusted and even the doctors in Crumlin would say that,” she says. “Your gut feeling is always nearly right.”
And she always advises parents not to forget about self care, urging family and friends to watch out for the parents who may fall to pieces when things finally seem to be back on track.
“When the child is better and you can stand back and take a breather that’s when it will hit you,” she explains.
“Up to that point you are running on adrenaline you have no other choice, but then when the child is finished with treatment, you are no longer getting all those weekly updates on their bloods and knowing exactly how they are, there is a real fear in that.”
If you don’t get on top of that fear, Noreen advises it can consume you, and that is the danger for parents who are coming out the other side after their child has been ill.
“There isn’t really any follow up care for parents,” she adds. “The child is the whole focus everything is about them and it has to be, but the wider circle of family and friends to be aware of the parents and that they need to be minded and checked up on too. There is a need to be aware as a family that there is a huge aftershock from it, there has to be.”