WHEN I tell Teagan Wilson I’m not surprised that her name means attractive, beautiful, and perfect, her sunny smile lights up the room.
Meeting the plucky nine-year- old, who donated her long locks to the Rapunzel Foundation after beating cancer herself, you’d never imagine that she was once a very sick little girl.
Teagan was diagnosed with leukaemia on February 1, 2014.
“It took a lot of doctors’ visits and tests to confirm that Teagan had ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) when she was four years old,” says Teagan’s mum, Davina Long.
She recalls the trauma the family went through when Teagan, a third class pupil at Scoil Realt Na Mara NS, Ballycotton, who was always so bright and bubbly, fell ill.
“We were celebrating her fourth birthday in November, 2013,” says Davina.
“The Fun Party Bus was on site and we had a bouncing castle. Everyone was having a great time.
“A few days later, Teagan began complaining of a pain in her side and in her leg. I thought she had done too much bouncing and jumping about on the bouncing castle and needed to rest more after all the excitement.”
But when the pain didn’t go away after a few days, Davina brought Teagan to SouthDoc in Midleton.
“Teagan had crippling pain,” says Davina, who is also mum to Siobhan, aged 21, Clodagh, aged 19, twins Megan and Melanie, aged 16, Adam aged 11, and Jaden, aged seven.
“The doctor sent us to A&E as a precaution and for Teagan to get some blood work done to be on the safe side,” adds Davina.
“We had a long wait in A&E for hours, and the medics were happy to send her home. But then we were told there was a bed in the ward upstairs available for Teagan.”
Did alarm bells ring then?
“Not really,” says Davina. But there were no definite answers on Teagan’s condition.
“Teagan’s dad came to the hospital to see her and to be with her. We found out that her haemoglobin count was low and that her temperature was high. A viral infection was suspected but there was nothing confirmed for sure.”
It was the start of a long stay in hospital for the little girl.
“That was the end of November. Teagan’s dad and I took turns to stay with her at the hospital,” says Davina.
“We were there by her bed-side constantly. I’d go in for a few hours, do a shop when I could, and try and keep the other children going at home as well.”
The road from Ballycotton to CUH became a well-travelled one for Davina, who was now very worried about her daughter.
Was there a diagnosis at this stage after Christmas?
Davina said doctors still believed her chronic pain was a viral infection.
“Teagan was allowed to come home on Christmas Eve. We got home at 2am in the morning. Her sister said ‘Santa brought Teagan home to us for Christmas!’”
The family still didn’t have a concrete diagnosis.
“Teagan’s bloods were taken and tested on a regular basis and she had a blood transfusion.”
When the child was admitted back into hospital after Christmas, she was complaining of no feeling in her right arm and weakness in both legs.
“I was told Teagan could have juvenile arthritis,” says Davina.
“We were referred to the Rheumatology Clinic in Crumlin.”
The family were going from pillar to post, not knowing what the final destination might be.
It was the strong instinct every mother has that prompted Davina to ask some more questions. She knew in her heart that Teagan was gravely ill and feared she had leukaemia.
“Further blood tests were run,” she says.
“But there was no test done yet to confirm or rule out leukaemia. Teagan didn’t display the typical symptoms associated with it. She felt more tired than usual, and her limbs felt weak. I just knew something was really wrong with her.”
A lumbar puncture was the next step that the little girl had to endure.
“It was a painful process,” says Davina, who was desperate to find out what Teagan was suffering from so that she could be treated effectively.
“If the lumbar puncture was needed to get a diagnosis so that Teagan could be treated and get better, then we had to go ahead with it,” says Davina.
She waited for good news all that day, January 31 2014.
“We got a conclusive diagnosis on February 1, that confirmed Teagan had ALL,” says Davina.
“At least the form of cancer Teagan had was the best diagnosis for a positive outcome after treatment.”
Two long years and two long months of chemotherapy treatment was on the cards for the little girl, taking place both in the Mercy University Hospital in Cork and in Crumlin Hospital, Dublin. Everyone was rooting for the popular youngster, willing her back to good health.
“Teagan got loads of cards and notes from her friends in school and from Miss Finn, her teacher,” says Davina.
“The Mercy Hospital oncology nurses were great to call out to do Teagan’s bloods, we were on the road so much, it relieved the pressure of hospital appointments.
“Olga and Peg showed me how to take the blood samples for regular testing at home.”
Davina went through the long months of Teagan’s intensive, often aggressive treatment in a bit of a haze.
“It was all a bit of blur,” says Davina.
“My dad was good to give a hand, helping us out.
“The situation wasn’t helped, though, when I had a car-crash, badly injuring my ankle, requiring ankle surgery in the future.”
Davina had to focus all her attention on her daughter on her road to full recovery.
“Teagan was very sick from the treatment at the start,” says Davina, recalling the stressful period when her daughter was undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
“She had to a have an NG feeding tube inserted for a while.”
The gruelling treatment took its toll.
“Teagan lost her hair in the first few months. But she wasn’t at all self-conscious.”
The girl knew her own mind.
“She didn’t want a wig,” says Davina.
“She said they made her head itchy. I think that’s one of the reasons she wanted to donate her own hair, real hair, to the Rapunzel Foundation for children who lose their own hair as a result of serious illness. Real hair doesn’t irritate the scalp as much as artificial hair does.”
Teagan rocked her new look.
“She loved all sorts of hats,” says Davina. “Soon she had a great collection of every shape of hat!”
But Teagan wasn’t out of the woods.
“That November, one of her lungs collapsed and she developed sepsis, which can be very dangerous,” says Davina.
“One of the valves in her heart is damaged as a result of the condition. When she’s older she has to have heart surgery.”
Teagan kept her fighting spirit up despite all the trauma her little body endured. She came out the other side and is back to the carefree, cheerful little girl she was before her leukaemia diagnosis.
“She finished all treatment on April 1, 2016,” says Davina. “She made her Communion last year with her class.”
Her long, beautiful hair grew back more luxuriant than ever. “The first time she cut it was when she donated her hair to the Rapunzel Foundation last month,” says Davina.
“Her sister Kacey had done the same the year before.
“Teagan was sure she wanted to donate her hair too for wigs for sick children.”
How did that go?, I asked the brave Teagan.
“I had my hair in a long plait,” she says importantly.
“The stylist cut it off with one snip. Afterwards she blow-dried my hair. It took 40 minutes to dry. My hair is very thick.”
Mum Davina is very proud.
“My girls did a very good thing, donating their hair to the Rapunzel Foundation,” says Davina. “I am very proud of them.”
When I met Teegan she was happily enjoying her school holidays beside the seaside.
“I didn’t like hospital, or the feeding tube,” she says.
What does she like?
“I love doing art,” she says.
The family are looking forward to moving to a new house on the Cork/Limerick border.
“Teagan wants a pet pig and we plan to raise chickens and hens,” says Davina.
“I’d really like that,” says Teagan, beaming with happiness at the prospect.
The Rapunzel Foundation is a charitable organisation that works to improve the lives of those living with hair loss through fund-raising and hair-raising. Email firstname.lastname@example.org