Patrick with Childhood Cancer Ireland ambassador Hugo Keenan.

Patrick O’Neill

By his Mum Eavann


A month before his 4th birthday, Patrick was very pale and tired. He had bruising and swollen lymph nodes in his neck and our GP was so concerned, he advised us to go to Crumlin for bloods as soon as possible. We were due to attend an orthopaedic clinic the next day for a check up on Patrick’s broken finger and so had bloods taken while we were there. About four hours later, we were on the way home when our GP rang and I knew by his voice that something was wrong.  


He told us we needed to go back to the hospital straight away and that we’d be meeting with haematology. I didn’t instantly associate haematology with cancer because you just never think that will happen to your child.  


Thankfully Patrick didn’t realise the magnitude of what was happening, he was too young. While we were receiving this news in a small room on St John’s ward, he was outside running up and down the corridor and checking out the playroom, full of the joys of life. When we were told that Patrick would need to stay in hospital for about a week I thought that would be it. I was in such shock that I really couldn’t take it in. He had his bloods done at lunch time and by 6pm his room and his treatment plan were ready and surgery was booked for the next day. Our lives had completely changed within a number of hours. 


The first eight months were the hardest and he endured some awful procedures and endless rounds of chemotherapy, it seemed to go on forever. Thankfully, Patrick’s diagnosis was straight forward, and he had a very good prognosis. In that world you’re extremely lucky but to the outside world you’re extremely unlucky.  


He finished treatment in October 2019 and I foolishly believed that everything would go back to normal. But everything changes – nothing stays the same. While we know that we are one of the lucky ones, it still leaves a scar.  


The safety net of Crumlin was gone and suddenly we were cast adrift. Then a few months later we were into the pandemic and unable to access face to face counselling which we so badly needed.  Covid seemed to prolong the agony and I’m only starting to feel better now having accessed counselling for myself and art therapy for Patrick.  


I was 28 weeks pregnant when Patrick was diagnosed. It was wonderful for our family to have that to focus on and our daughter Evie’s arrival was a great distraction for us all. However, I don’t remember a lot of the first year of Evie’s life because we were in and out of hospital the whole time.  


I still worry about late effects and relapse. I also worry about Evie if she ever displays any of the symptoms that lead to Patrick’s diagnosis. It’s hard not to feel like that when you have been through something like this.  


Thankfully Patrick is happy and healthy now and life goes on. He’s in 4th class and has recovered in every sense. I think it’s taking us a bit longer to get over what happened but hopefully with time, we’ll begin to feel better. He’s living such a great life and is running up and down the football field every week and learning to swim. Even during treatment, it was hard to keep him away from his beloved sports and as soon as he reached maintenance, we were very fortunate to be able to send him back to training, which he greatly enjoyed. We were determined to let him live as normal a life as possible. 

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