A NORTH Cork woman who saw two of her children struck down by leukaemia says she is very lucky after both survived the ordeal.
Noreen Doyle, a native of Kilcaaskan, Kanturk, is the mother of four children, ranging in age from 10 to 16,
The family’s ordeal began 12 years ago, when Noreen was five months pregnant with her third child.
She and her husband John were given the earth-shattering news that their two-year-old son, James, had acute leukemia.
The Doyles reside at a farm, near Naas, Co Kildare, but regularly travel to their family in North Cork.
Noreen said: “My family in Cork were amazing, they jumped in when I needed help.”
She recalls how, while attending to James during his treatment at Crumlin Hospital, she went into labour with Alison.
Two years later, then aged four, James finally overcame his battle with leukemia and was able to complete treatment.
However, two years ago, the family learned they face a second battle with the illness.
Kate, the Doyles’ youngest child, at the age of seven, was also diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Noreen admits that, in her heart, she knew exactly what was wrong with Kate when she became ill, as she had seen it ten years earlier, with James.
She said: “In my gut I knew, 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, there were very obvious symptoms.”
The second time around, with Kate’s diagnosis, John and Noreen decided from the outset to counteract the negative with the positive.
Noreen said: “When James would be discharged from hospital, I remember I would pack his bag immediately, when I got back home, for him to return to hospital. It was an unhealthy habit, it was very overwhelming,”
However, seeing James as a healthy boy gave them inspiration to begin another battle with leukemia.
Noreen said: “We told Kate 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.”
Noreen says that they tried to keep life as normal as possible for Kate.
“She kept up her horseriding as much as possible, we kept her going to school, she likes playing football so we would go with her to the pitch.”
Then there were the things that were not so much part of the normal routine, such as the family trip to Lapland with Make a Wish Foundation, two years ago.
Noreen said: “We all went, we had not done a huge amount of family holidays, so going to Lapland was a break from the ordinary.”
Kate also went to see one of her favourite bands, Picture This. After meeting them for tea at The Clanard Court Hotel in Athy, Co Kildare, she then went and saw them perform at the 3 Arena.
Noreen recalled:“When she would go into hospital for a longer stay I’d go with Kate 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.”
Now aged 10, Kate is finishing her treatment, and still has an active life, taking part in football and horseriding.
Meanwhile, James, 14, is very active in sports. After his treatment, he suffered poor leg power, but is now “perfectly well”, says his mother.
She added: “He is hugely into mountaineering and boxing.”
The extremely challenging journey through the battles with leukemia with her two children has changed Noreen.
Overcoming the illness twice has made both James and Kate very empathetic towards other children who are sick, she says.
“It is tough going,” added Noreen. “You have to get through it.
“It is at night-time when the children are sleeping that the parents fall apart. I went to counselling to cope with continuing worry, it is a vicious cycle of worry, it impacts on your health.”
Noreen’s perspective on life is different.
She said: “I have changed dramatically, the little things in life don’t have an effect on me anymore.
“I am very content that I have four healthy children, we are just very content as a family.”
“Money would do nothing to make things better when you have a sick child in hospital, to lose a child must be absolutely devastating.
“Children are resilient and practical about things, if I went through half of what my children went through, I would feel very sorry for myself. We are very lucky.”
The Doyle family have taken part in a research project at Crumlin, looking into leukemia and the genetic connection.
The research project is linked with a hospital in Memphis, America.
All of the family got blood tests taken that will be used for research, and they hope that this will help with assisting other families.
Noreen said: “I have got a million per cent of inspiration from my children, we have been very lucky.”
She urges other mothers to always go with their instincts when it comes to their children’s health.
“A mother’s instinct is really to be trusted and even the doctors in Crumlin would say that”, she says. “Your gut feeling is nearly always right.”
She also advises parents not to forget about self-care, and it is important that other family and friends watch out for the parents, who may fall to pieces when things finally seem to be back on track.
Noreen added: “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.”