A BRAVE Northside girl in remission from a life-threat- ening form of cancer celebrated her seventh birthday last week in the best of health, despite facing an 80 per cent risk of being struck with the illness a second time.
Little Robyn Smyth, from Whitehall, was tickled pink when a double-decker party bus with all her friends and cousins on board arrived at the door on the day of her birthday, August 25.
A few days later she was treated to another surprise when she was picked up by a Hummer jeep and brought to the Priorswood Scouts Den for a wonderful afternoon of birthday fun, organised by her mother, Bernadette Dornan.
Bernadette says she loves making Robyn’s birthdays as special as possible because she knows how lucky she is that her little girl is still alive.
Robyn was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a pernicious cancer of the nervous system, shortly after her third birthday. There followed a gru- elling 18 months of treatment involving chemotherapy, radio- therapy, surgery and stem cell transplant.
Miraculously, Robyn has been in remission since February 2009, but her mother knows just how fragile her good health is.
“When Robyn got sick in 2007, I thought she would only survive another two years. I looked it up on the internet, even though people told me not to, and I said to myself: ‘I’ll have her until she’s five’. It’s a miracle that she’s now seven.
“Robyn herself knows how lucky she is, although she doesn’t like to talk about her illness. She says: ‘If I didn’t have this scar on my chest, I wouldn’t be here’,” adds Bernadette.
Behind the scenes, her adoring family is driving a long-running fundraising campaign to be able to pay for a massively expensive stem cell treatment in the States in case she gets sick again.
The treatment, involving mouse anti-bodies, costs around e800,000 and would reduce the chances of Robyn’s cancer returning by about 10 per cent.
Already, the combined efforts of family, friends and a very supportive Northside community in Whitehall and Ballymun have raised almost e54,000, for which Bernadette is deeply grateful.
She stated: “The initial deposit for the procedure, which takes place in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, is e350,000. The treatment usually ends up costing at least double this. But even if we managed to raise e200,000 I would be delighted.
“We will only draw on the money if Robyn gets sick, so I hope we never have to use it! In the meantime I would like to set up another fund for kids with cancer, because there is very little support available to families affected by childhood cancer.”
The most recent fundraising event for Robyn was a live pig race organised by staff of the Comet Pub in Santry, just around the corner from where Robyn lives.
“I didn’t even know about the pig race until after the event, I just got a phone call and the next thing the Comet presented us with a cheque for e1,120. It was wonderful; it really gives you a bit of a boost to go on and do something else,” said Bernadette.
For the last two years, Bernadette and a group of friends have taken part in the Women’s Mini-Marathon, but she admits that it’s getting harder each year to ask people for sponsorship.
“People have been so generous already and it’s hard to ask for money when everyone’s struggling at the moment. And when people see that Robyn is well right now, they don’t feel the urgency. Also, a lot of people running the marathon like to pick a different cause every year.
“Last year we had about 60 people running the marathon and we made over e4,000. This year we had a lot less, so it’s definitely getting harder.”
Bernadette herself has been unable to concentrate on fundraising over the past few months, as she’s been experiencing a difficult pregnancy.
“I’m due my baby in November and I’m delighted, but I’ve been sick from the start,” she explained.
November seems a long time away to Robyn, who is looking forward to meeting her new brother or sister.
“She came with me to get the scan and she kept asking the nurses to tell her if it was a boy or a girl, she can’t wait to find out,” said Bernadette.
In the meantime, Robyn’s parents live with the constant background fear of a relapse, knowing that that the chances of their daughter’s cancer reoccurring are between 70 and 80 per cent.
“Robyn spent two weeks in hospital last Christmas when her blood sugar went dangerously low and at one point the doctors thought the cancer had come back. Thankfully, what they were looking at on the scan was only the scar tissue from her last operation.
“She made a full recovery and hasn’t been sick since Christmas. Just last week she woke up with a headache and I thought: ‘Oh God, this is it’. You’re on tenterhooks all the time but you have to live your life. We try not to focus on the fundraising and the risks and instead concentrate on Robyn enjoying her life and having fun,” added Bernadette.
Anyone who would like to help Robyn avail of stem cell treatment can make a donation to the Robyn's Life account at AIB, sort code 932353, account number 21417099.
More Information - http://www.robynslife.com