A YEAR ago the lives of the Brown family fell apart when their three year-old daughter Ellie-Louise was diagnosed with Leukaemia.
“The best way you can describe it is as a vase smashing into pieces and slowly, bit by bit, you are trying to put that vase back together again,” explained mum Fiona.
“Whenever the doctor in Craigavon said those words at one o’clock in the morning, well that was it. I thought how long have we got here?”
Life, as the Dungannon family knew it, ended on March 28th 2012, and a new one, which involved regular trips to hospital and intense chemotherpay for their seriously ill child, begun.
“Ellie Louise was very, very ill when she was transferred to the Royal,” recalled Fiona.
“Her heart rate was only 40, and when it should have been 120. Her hemoglobin was only 2.5 and it should have been between 10 and 14, and she had a very serious infection in her throat. One of her lungs was partially collapsed, and there was E Coli bacteria in the bladder. She was battling for her life.”
Eventually, the family were told of the type of Leukaemia that their daughter had - Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, a blood cancer and a life threatening illness.
Chemotherapy started straightaway, and within four weeks Fiona and husband Rodney were told that Ellie Louise was considered “high risk” of a relapse, and would need cancer treatment right into 2014.
Despite the grueling treatment, which includes daily chemo, monthly steroid medication and blood transfusions, little Ellie Louise has remained bubbly and bright.
Her family have also kept strong through the huge outpouring of support from the local community and cancer charities here.
The Northern Ireland Cancer Fund, Clic Sargent, Macmillen and the Northern Ireland Children’s Cancer Unit Fund are just some of the charities that have helped the Brown family through the last 12 months.
In January the Brown’s launched the Ellie Louise Fundraising Appeal, and rounded off months of donations and fundraisers by holding a coffee morning on March 28th 2013 - a year to the day the four year-old was diagnosed.
“We were totally overwhelmed,” added mum Fiona,
“Basically by the response and by the generosity of people. There were so many people working behind the scenes of the coffee morning to make today a success.
“Because of what we were going through, something carried you. We had a lot of people praying for us, we had a lot of people supporting us and I think that carries you. The words of footprints, you know the poem, so, so true. We were being carried – and we are still being carried.
“There was times we asked ourselves – what are we doing, we haven’t the energy, we haven’t the time - but something pushed us on and then we said you know what, it’s going to help us and it’s going to help others.”
The thousands raised through the Ellie Louise Fundraising Appeal will go towards projects such as the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund’s respite house which provides time out for children with cancer, and their families, or Clic Sargent’s ‘Homes from Home Appeal’.
As well as raising awareness of childhood cancer, Fiona and her family wanted to raise awareness of the importance of giving blood.
“Ellie Louise needed 14 units of blood and six units of platelets in the first six months and potentially that was 20 people saving her life,” said Fiona.
“And that is just one child and if you think of the amount of adults, the amount of children that not only have cancer bu tall sorts of injuries, accidents, mothers maybe in labour – all those people need blood.”
“It’s such a simple thing to do to save someone’s life. So anybody interested in donation sessions in Newmills, contact Andrea at the Transfusion Service and anyone interested in Donaghmore can contact the Torrent complex.”
Although there is still an long and uncertain road ahead for the Brown family, they say the thought of it has been made somewhat easier through the support and kindness showed to them over the last 12 months.
Fiona adds: “We are fragile and we have been fragile throughout this whole journey and it’s sometimes just a kind word, sometimes it’s just someone who comes and has a cup of coffee with you, giving you a bit of their time because you can’t get out and about.
“It’s small gestures. All sorts of practical things and just feeling as though people are being there for you, because you do, anyone in our situation, need all the help and support you can get.
The mum concluded: “We have a long race ahead of us, and it is not even a race because you have to take it at snail’s pace, for us you don’t look too far ahead.
“You try not to dwell on the past and the future is out there and hopefully everyday is a day closer to it but it’s taking baby steps.
“We are still battling this.
“Life is very fragile, no one knows the moment, the day; and because of our situation here we are much more aware of the fragility of life.”
To donate to the Ellie Louise Fundraising Appeal log onto: www.virginmoneygiving.com/ellielouisebrownfundraising
To find out more about donating blood or platelets contact NI Blood Transfusion service 0500 534 666 to register your interest.