Shortly after Christmas 2004 Bláthnaid began to complain of pain in her right side. We brought her to our GP who referred us to our local General Hospital here in Sligo.
Her condition worsened over the weeks, we were waiting for our appointment and her symptoms included a limp that would come and go and a change in her pallor. She looked unwell. By the time we came to be seen at an out-patients clinic she was experiencing pains at night and had begun to lose weight. On the very morning of the clinic she complained of new pains in her chest. That finally did it for me and convinced me that something sinister was wrong with my child. We had to endure another three and a half week wait to see a Rheumatologist in Crumlin's Children's Hospital, and that was considered quick due to our private Health Insurance.
When we finally came to be seen there on Wednesday the 20th of April 2005 the Doctor told us that she had to have an 'underlying cause' for her limp which, by now, was considerable. He sent us home and we arranged to forward Bláthnaid's x-rays from our local hospital. He rang us on the Friday evening and I knew that my worst fears were confirmed although he did not go into detail over the phone. Upon arrival to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children on Monday the 25th of April 2005 John and I were taken aside and told that there was a 'substantial' growth on Bláthnaid's right Iliac or pelvic bone. We were admitted onto St. Joseph's Ward but we were told that we would be transferred onto St. John's, the Oncology Ward, as soon as a bed became available. Bláthnaid endured numerous invasive procedures over the coming days and the news just got worse and worse. She had a rare aggressive form of Bone Cancer called Ewing sarcoma and the disease had run rampant in her body over the previous weeks and had spread to her lungs, various other bones and was even in her bone marrow. She commenced chemotherapy on Thursday the 28th of April and we were informed that she would require four days of treatment every 21 days for the foreseeable future.
The outlook was not good and she was given two years to live. The enduring memories I have of this time are trying to conceal my terror at her condition and inspire hope, comfort and security in my precious girl. She became very ill and her weight plummeted. Despite everything, she set the standard she was to maintain throughout the rest of her short life and faced her terrible illness with great courage and dignity. In late May events took a turn for the worse and she ended up in our local hospital with the onset of liver and kidney failure but Bláthnaid fought back and survived. She was devastated by the loss of her beloved Granny on the 16th of June 2005 and really struggled to cope with the burdens placed upon her fragile young shoulders. We grieved for the loss of my Mum together and over the following months our bond just got stronger. Ironically, my mother's death marked a turning point and Bláthnaid seemed to respond very well to her gruelling medication. The disease was retreating and her lungs were clear, her marrow was clear and her primary site was dramatically reduced.
She was so brave that she decided to start secondary school in September 2005 and attended the same school as Sorcha, the Ursuline College in Sligo. By November there was no sign of the disease except some residual activity in her right pelvis but we couldn't have hoped for more given the gravity of her condition at diagnosis. She spent Christmas at home surrounded by her loving family and on Christmas Day took me outside to the garden. She led me to a lone beautiful red rose in full solitary bloom on that bleak cold day and told me it was a sign from Granny that she loved us and missed us but that she was happy in her new home in Heaven.
At this stage we were waiting for a place on the Ward to have a stem cell transplant, a procedure that would involve essentially giving her a lethal dose of chemotherapy and then replacing her obliterated bone marrow with some she had had harvested from her peripheral blood supply in the summer. We had been on a 'maintenance' regime of chemo since September and the signs were good that she stood a chance at life. We had a meeting with our Oncology Consultant in February 2006 when, for the first time in nearly twelve months, he spoke of survival and the remarkable response Bláthnaid had had to her treatment.
Twelve hours later our hopes were shattered when she awoke in terrible pain. Over the next few weeks her relapse was confirmed and although she was given a trial course of therapy it emerged that her disease had developed resistance to chemo and all that was left was palliative radiotherapy. She commenced morphine in February and as the weeks passed the doses increased and once again every day seemed to bring more pain and we began to see our daughter lose her brave battle for life. She endured indescribable pain and suffering and before she finally passed away, surrounded by us all, in the early hours of Saturday, the 16th of September 2006. Bláthnaid maintained, from her diagnosis, that she was going to help others like her and try to find a cure for Ewing's. She had great plans on how to achieve this and used to contemplate ways to merge her own vibrant ambitions, like swimming with sharks and going on the Pat Kenny show, with fundraising.
Bláthnaid was such an amazing unique little individual that in the hours after her death we knew we had to carry out her final wishes. We have established the Bláthnaid Foley Memorial Cancer Trust in her memory. It is our hope that we can work with others to try and achieve a cure for this terrible illness that claimed the life of our cherished child. On Christmas Day 2006 we participated in a fundraising swim to raise funds for Bláthnaid's Trust and on the way home we lit a candle at her grave. I was so sad that day that I went into the garden to seek a sign that my little girl was alright. The rose that had bloomed the year before was bare and as I turned to come inside my eye was caught by a flash of colour in her little flower bed in the corner. Sure enough the rose she had bought me for my birthday had one beautiful bloom. I can only pray that she is with her Granny and that we'll be reunited one day and in these dark lonely days the only way we can hope to make sense of her tragic death is to try and ensure, as she would want, another like her will live in the future.