Leukaemia battle for courageous Callum

Mum Alison McCarthy tells CHRIS DUNNE about her son’s leukaemia diagnosis, as her local GAA club run a cycling event to raise money for the group that helped her
Leukaemia battle for courageous Callum

ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Callum McCarthy, front right, with his parents, Alison and Donagh, his brothers Donagh and Eanna, and sister Shauna

LIKE every GAA club, the one at Tracton in south Cork is a hub of the local community.

Among the members of its juvenile section are Shauna McCarthy, aged 12, and her eight-year-old brother Donagh.

They are the eldest children of local couple Alison and Donagh McCarthy — and when Tracton GAA Club holds its annual charity cycle in a few weeks’ time, the beneficiary will be very close to the family’s heart.

Part of the proceeds of the event, called The Tour De South Coast, on May 12 will go to the Children’s Leukaemia Association, Cork.

A year ago, Alison and Donagh’s five-year-old son, Callum, was diagnosed with leukaemia, and underwent a gruelling round of treatment.

“My husband is acting as steward for the Tour De South Coast,” says Alison. “Callum is hoping to join the Tracton Juvenile Club this summer along with his brother and sister.”

Callum, who has a younger brother, Eanna, aged three, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) a year ago, when his mother noticed he was bruising easily.

Concerned, she brought him to her GP, who in turn referred Callum to the paediatric day assessment unit at CUH.

“We were very grateful for our quick-thinking family doctor,” says Alison.

“It was thought at first that Callum may have had a viral infection and that it was something in his blood.

“Callum was always very healthy with no complaints. The consultant did some blood tests at 2pm and we got the results at 6.30pm.”

Alison and Donagh were in for a shock.

“We learned that Callum’s condition had to be treated straight away,” says Alison.

He was transferred to Crumlin Hospital, to Dublin, by ambulance, to begin his treatment.

The little boy’s treatment plan meant an initial six months of aggressive treatment, involving chemotherapy.

“It was a tough six months,” says Alison. “There was a huge shock factor being in the paediatric oncology environment in Crumlin. Fortunately for us, Callum’s leukaemia was treatable.”

The youngster, a junior infants pupil at Rennies NS, Nohoval, Belgooly, kept up a brave face during his treatment.

“Callum had to have a feeding tube for a while, which was par for the course,” Alison says. “After 30 days, he was in remission and continued his first phase of treatment. Then he went on maintenance, and a less intensive regimen. We were so happy — it was a really horrific time.”

Callum lost his head of blonde curls during his treatment, but a year makes all the difference.

“Calum is happy now, his curls are back,” says Alison.

“It was all so sudden,” she adds, recalling the shock diagnosis a year ago.

“The treatment was full on. Callum had to have a Hickman line inserted. He was on oral chemotherapy as well as frequent steroids which had nasty side effects. And he had regular lumber punctures.

“Callum often suffered from bone pain, nausea, and he always felt cold.”

THUMBS UP: Callum McCarthy is happy now his blonde curls are back, after losing his hair during his treatment for leukaemia
THUMBS UP: Callum McCarthy is happy now his blonde curls are back, after losing his hair during his treatment for leukaemia

It was a stressful time for all the family.

“Initially, we stayed in Crumlin with Callum for 14 days,” says Alison. “In the early days, the first few months, he stopped walking and he had to be carried. He was extremely weak and he had to have physiotherapy.

“In Cork, we attended the Mercy Hospital for regular chemotherapy.

“Our consultant, Clodagh Ryan, was a great support to us, assuring us that Callum’s prognosis was good.

“The oncology nurses, Olga and Peg, came out to our house to take Callum’s bloods, saving us visits to the Leukaemia Unit.

“Even though we were treated like VIPs at the Mercy Hospital in St John’s ward, we still preferred being at home to a hospital environment.”

The Children’s Leukaemia Association, Cork, supported the McCarthys at a time when they needed it most.

“On diagnosis, the Leukaemia Association contacted us,” says Alison. “It is a great port of call for support and information.

“The Children’s Leukaemia Association, realising the profound effect a diagnosis of the illness has on a family, supports and assists families in any way possible during the course of on-going treatment.”

The Children’s Leukaemia Association, Cork, makes a difference by:

Providing free home from home accommodation in an apartment purchased, through fund-raising, for families who have travelled long distances while the child is being treated in the Children’s Leukaemia Unit.

The Association provides additional nursing staff at critical periods during a child’s illness.

It provides financial support when problems or acute needs are experienced during the course of treatment for leukaemia, cancer or other serious blood disorders.

Provides essential medical equipment.

The Association funds necessary counselling for the child and other family members and any other therapy services required.

It organises and funds trips to Lourdes for the child and a parent after treatment.

Organises special outings for children and their families including a Christmas Party, Parents’ Night Out and a Family Day Trip.

Funds Leukaemia Research, focusing on quality of life for the child and family.

Funds educational support for staff who work in the Children’s Leukaemia Unit.

The Charity arranges regular Parent Support Evenings with guest speakers specialising in areas affecting the family.

“The Association also buy gifts for the Leukaemia Unit Playroom at the Mercy Hospital,” says Alison. “And they hold monthly parent coffee mornings for support.”

Last week, Callum was eagerly looking forward to the Easter Egg Hunt..

“He was in hospital last year for Easter,” says Alison. “This year, things will be different.”

About the cycle event

THE Tour De South Coast takes place on Sunday, May 12, departing from the Tracton GAA Club Minane Bridge at 9am. To register see: www.tourdesouthcoast.com

Tracton GAA was founded in 1888 and this year the club are donating part of the proceeds of the cycle to the Children’s Leukaemia Association, Cork.

“The cycle has grown each year,” explains Chairman, Con Kelly.

“We thought about what charity could benefit from the cycle, which was a great success last year when we raised funds for Marymount and for equipment for the Juvenile Club.

“The Juvenile Club looks after kids aged 5 years to 18 years.”

More than 350 cyclists are expected to turn up for the 100km and the 50km routes, enjoying the thrills and hills of the De South Coast Tour. A lot more people other than the cyclists will be putting their shoulders to the wheel.

“It is a real community effort,” says Con.

“We are blessed with a vibrant community who do excellent work in the parish.

“Again this year, more than 100 people have rowed in behind the Tour De South Coast cycle, volunteering to be stewards along every junction along the routes.

“Cycling enthusiasts who are on the committee planned the routes and they also got involved in organising the catering, making sandwiches and home-baked cakes for the cyclists,” says Con.

The cyclists can look forward to some nice treats after their cycle.

“Tea, coffee, sandwiches, lemon cake, fruit cake, cup cakes, Rocky Road and jelly sweets are some of what is on offer for the participants,” says Con.

“The feedback has been great and there is a great sense of community spirit after the success of last years’ cycle in aid of Marymount. Everyone came up trumps,” adds Con.

“It makes everything much easier when everyone pulls together.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content