BY HARRY WALSH
DYLAN McBride has set himself an ambitious goal ahead of the new school year which started yesterday, Thursday, in Donegal.
The brave nine-year-old from Churchill is determined to miss less than 21 days schooling this year as he enters fourth class at Stramore NS where he will be under the tutelage of school principal, Ms Therese McMonagle.
It’s a target he sets himself each year but one which, unfortunately, he has yet to achieve.
Dylan was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was 25 months old. Neuroblastoma is a cancer of special nerve cells called neuroblasts and he’s spent many days in the intervening eight years having a series of painful and tiring medical treatments in hospital.
While too many days of his young life have already been seized by his condition, Dylan is fighting back.
Together with his mother, Paula Scott-McBride, and three other families affected by childhood cancer, they are organising a Family Fun Day at the Bernard McGlinchey Town Park, Letterkenny, next Saturday, September 7.
The event is part of ‘Light it Up Gold’ which will run for the first week of September, the official month of childhood cancer awareness, in a bid to raise much needed funds to finish the St John’s cancer ward in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin which cares for the 160 children who are diagnosed with cancer every year.
“Too little is being done to raise awareness of the issue of childhood cancer in Ireland, which devastates families and is on the rise. The funds we raise will go a long way in modernising the inadequate facilities that exist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and supporting the wonderful staff who care for our children,” Ms Scott-McBride said.
Iconic landmarks across the country are set to ‘Go Gold’ from September 1. Among those buildings already confirmed are St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Convention Centre, The O2 and Smithfield in Dublin as well as buildings in Cork, Galway and across Donegal.
They will join other famous landmarks across the globe including the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Ms Scott-McBride recalled the day that the oncologist told her and her husband Peadar that their son had cancer.
“It was the weekend before Halloween. He was lying across his cot in pain and we took him to Letterkenny General Hospital where they performed at ultra-sound and found what they termed ‘a mass’ in his abdominal area. The next day we were in Crumlin and within 45 minutes we were told that he had neuroplastoma,” she said.
Ten children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma in Ireland each year. It is the most common cancer in children aged under two years and affects the nervous system.
“The next day he was taken to theatre for a biopsy. The procedure was supposed to take about an hour but it would be four hours later before he came back out.”
Those samples were sent to Newcastle for analysis and with it being a bank holiday weekend, Paula and Peadar were told it would take 10 to 14 days before the results would be known.
“The following Wednesday they came back in to us to say that it (cancer) was growing rapidly. It was stage four and they had to hit it hard there and then. The previous Saturday we had been at a wedding and here we were being told this news. It was like a bolt out of the blue,” she recalled.
It would be another three weeks before they would get back to Donegal as Dylan started his treatment with nine rounds of chemotherapy in 90 days – one every ten days. Some of the treatments lasted ten hours while others took 48 hours.
Dylan’s big sister Katelyn, who was four at that time, had just started school.
“Katelyn said that when she went to bed at night she didn’t know if mummy or daddy would be there in the morning. We were lucky in that my mother and father-in-law lived just over the road so whenever we were away she went to granny’s. She had just started school and we wanted to give her some form of normality too.
“We felt awful picking one child over the other but we had no choice. Dylan’s chemotherapy was so intense that Peader had to take time off work as one person couldn’t physically do it all,” she said.
Size of rugby ball
That treatment finished the following January and a month later Dylan had his tumour removed.
“The tumour was the size of a rugby ball, and that was after being shrunk with all the treatments, so imagine the size it was at the start.”
Dylan would also lose his left kidney. A few months later he was back in the operating theatre for a bone marrow transplant.
When he got home that August, Paula said that she felt they were ‘home and dry’ but, as she now realises, she should have known better.
“He got home on the Thursday and was back in Crumlin on the Bank Holiday Monday to get 500 ml of fluid drained off his heart. The last time he was in Intensive Care they took five litres of fluid off his abdomen area. He’s a fighter and we had no option but to fight with him,” she said.
Fast forward seven years and Dylan was still not in remission.
“Technically, he’s cancer free as he has no tumour but his bloods have never been good enough to allow the doctors to say that he’s in remission,” she said.
Unfortunately, Dylan has also been left with ‘loads of health complications’ as a result of his ongoing battle with cancer.
“His lung capacity is at 59 per cent. He’s also had heart problems while he has suffered high frequency loss of hearing because of the chemotherapy. They were trying to save his life and his left leg drags a bit because of nerve damage but he always finds ways and means around most things,” she smiled.
All-Ireland winning Donegal defender Frank McGlynn was Dylan’s teacher for the past three years and he lives and breathes GAA, especially anything to do with the local Glenswilly club.
“Maybe I was naive about childhood cancer but it’s common enough and we now want to let people know that there’s help and support out there. There are four mammies on the committee. Our children were all diagnosed at different times. We met through this year’s Relay for Life as three of the kids were in the choir. We then heard about the Gold campaign and we decided that we wanted to do something here in Donegal.”
“What better way than a family fun day. They’re still kids and don’t want to be treated differently.
“That said, people see a kid that they knew had cancer with hair and they then think that everything’s fine, but chemotherapy causes so many side effects it’s unbelievable. There are so many children and families in Donegal affected by cancer but we don’t know half of them. Hopefully the fun day will help raise that awareness.”
Three years ago, the Make a Wish Foundation – together with TV3 – came together to allow Dylan to be a Garda for a day.
“When asked to fill out the form, Dylan said that he would like to be Scooby Doo, he would like a remote control car and would like to go on a family holiday, but his first option was to be a Garda,” she said.
“When he came home from school one day, Martyn King and the TV3 cameras were there. A few days later he was in Store Street Garda station where he was an honorary garda for a day – and a sergeant at that. He got to go out with the Traffic Corps, sit on a Garda horse, meet one of the sniffer dogs and view the cells. He was also given a full uniform that he got to take home with him,” she said.
Does that mean that Dylan would like to be a Garda when he grows up?
“That’s one of the difficult things. We had to try and tell him, without hurting his feelings, that with his hearing aids and related health problems it might not be the job for him. But his attitude is that there were height restrictions when his mummy wanted to be a guard and they’re since gone. He’s very inquisitive. Maybe he can work in forensics or something like that,” she said.
With that, Dylan and Katelyn take the hand of their baby brother Ethan as he prepares for his first day at school. Twenty one days and counting.
BUILDINGS TO GO GOLD
In Letterkenny, CA Family Day will take place next Saturday, September 7, at Bernard McGlinchey Town Park, from 3-5pm.
There will be fun events for all the kids such as hip-hop, mini races, bouncing castle, face painting and a cup cake stand.
“This event is open to general public however we are hoping that families affected by childhood cancer from the North West Region, north and south of the border, will attend. It will culminate in children releasing GOLD balloons to celebrate the end of a successful campaign,” concluded.
Buildings across the world ‘Light It Up Gold’ in September to shine a light on the bravery of children...