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Barretstown boost to brave Alex in coping with cancer

Shannon boy’s mother urges support for children’s charity that has given her son, 12, so much joy

WITH Alex O’Shaughnessy having had to battle a rare form of cancer, the pandemic has been a little bit more difficult for his family.

Alex, from Purcell Park, is in sixth class at St Conaire’s, and has had a difficult few years fighting the rare condition Rhabdomyosarcoma, but is doing well at the moment, according to his mother Agnes. “He’s good, he’s doing well. He went back to school a few weeks ago and his health is starting to come back, so he’s doing very well.”

Alex has had very intensive treatment for his illness, and there was a little bit of normality returning just before lockdown. “Last February we went to Barretstown for a family weekend, and that was the start of us trying to get back to some kind of life, but then lockdown happened.

“He was still on treatment until last June, so we were cocooning after that weekend in Barretstown, but then as the year went on he could go back to school in September because he was finished treatment, just with some precautions.

“We have been careful, but we were lucky we could come out of the full cocooning. We fully cocooned for a few months, but he was able to mix a little bit from September.”

Since the treatment ended he has had regular scans to see that everything is stable, and so far things have been fine and his health is quite good. “He does have a few little ongoing issues, but that’s to be expected with the treatment he’s had, but it’s nothing that isn’t manageable,” says Agnes.

Twelve years old now, he has been through an awful lot over the last couple of years and Agnes says he is much more mature than when he was diagnosed. Getting back to school has been very good for him, she feels.

“He loves meeting his friends. He’s catching up, he has nearly caught up with the class at this stage, though he missed a year and a half of school. He’s quite a bright little boy.”

Covid-19 was actually in their house, with Agnes and her daughter picking it up, but Alex and his father luckily avoided catching it.

While things have been hard for the household for quite a long time, she is glad they are at the point that they are now. “It was quite tough for everyone, but we’re grateful for where we are at this stage.”

She is grateful for the help and support they got from Barretstown, the children’s charity in Kildare which offers free, specially designed camps and programmes for children and their families living with a serious illness.

Barretstown had an income shortfall of €1 million last year and Agnes is urging support for the charity, as it had been so good for her family and Alex.

“The weekend we were there in February of last year was when the first case of Covid was announced. That was the first time we had been able to do anything that was fun, it was the first time we saw Alex laugh and be a normal child.

“He was climbing on a climbing wall and terrifying me of course, but the whole message of Barretstown is let them be a child again and let them run free and because there is medical support there you can let them, without worrying too much.

“With a child that sick you couldn’t go to another holiday spot and get the same out of it. It was brilliant and of course Alex was all excited, he wanted to go back by himself. They let older kids go for a week by themselves and he was excited about doing that last summer, but of course Covid got in the way.

“They did some virtual things, families could take part in virtual camps, we did one of them, and hopefully they can get back in the summer.”

She says it was great for Alex to meet other children who could understand what he had just come through.

“I think what was important for him was that he met other children that were the same, that could understand what he had gone through. That was the biggest part of it.”

With some restrictions easing, she hopes things can continue to return to normality in their house.

“I’m back to work, his Dad’s back to work, we’re just trying to get back to normal like everyone. We feel like we went from a year and a half of isolation with Alex’s illness then straight into Covid. We’re ready to start living again, I think everyone is the same.”

People who wish to support Barretstown can do so at www.barretstown.org.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.