Childhood cancer - 'I want the world to know how proud of our daughter we are'

Michelle Buckley will never forget the moment she had to break the news to daughter Abi that at 12-years-old she had cancer.

“Abi was diagnosed with advanced papillary thyroid cancer in February, a rare form of childhood cancer. We were informed by the surgeon at the hospital following a biopsy, with Abi waiting in the hall outside the door. It was like an outer-body experience at the time: we had to walk out the door, look at her and pretend everything was ok. It was incredibly hard,” recalled mum-of-three Michelle.

“That evening we rang the Irish Cancer Society Support Line for advice on how to tell our child she had cancer. The nurse advised us that given her age, it was best just to be honest and tell her the truth. So we sat her down and told her.

“I remember her first few questions were ‘am I going to die?’ and ‘will I lose my hair?’. I’m so glad we were prepared, as we could tell her that there is a very positive outcome for thyroid cancer in a lot of cases. I said ‘Abi, you’re not going to lose your hair, but if you ever did then mammy will shave it off too’.”

The family’s dramatic journey all started last November when Abi found a lump on her neck just weeks after starting secondary school. Having initially thought it was a swollen gland, Michelle became concerned on Christmas Day when she noticed it had grown larger, and so sought to get it checked out as soon as possible afterwards.

That set in train a whirlwind of GP visits, tests, scans and the biopsy before receiving the dreaded diagnosis in February.

From there Abi underwent major surgery to remove her thyroid and 46 lymph nodes from her neck. Having come through that ordeal, she was due to start radioactive iodine therapy eight weeks later to target areas left behind by the surgery when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

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Due to covid her treatment was put on hold. That was a really stressful time, but thankfully in June we got the call to say we were good to go and she began her treatment.

The radiation involved in Abi’s week-long therapy meant she had to undergo it in isolation. This was incredibly difficult for both her and her family to take, but Michelle is thankful Abi could count on the protection of a very important guardian throughout.

“The day she went in for her surgery she took her teddy bear Scampi in to mind her, and he hasn’t left her side since: so much so that our local butcher vacuum-packed Scampi to go into isolation with her so that she could take him home again.”

Since her treatment Abi has turned teenager and gone back to school.

However, she will be on medication for the rest of her life to replace the function of her thyroid, and her family constantly worries about the need to balance the wellbeing of a normal teen with the necessary caution for someone who has just undergone cancer treatment, especially given the risk posed by covid.

Michelle hopes sharing their story will help others: “I want the world to know how proud of our daughter we are, she is a true warrior princess. Abi wants the world to be aware of the young children who battle on a daily basis with the different types of cancer that attack their little bodies.

“Not all lumps are harmful, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

RAi-Ted Comic Strip
RAi-Ted The Search for TC and the Hotspots
Abi and Michelle worked together to create a comic book to explain how radio iodine treatment works to young children.

Check out 'RAi-Ted The Search for TC and the Hotspots'

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

Our Support Line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm offering support and advice
for anyone affected by cancer on Freephone 1800 200 700.

Roz, a cancer nurse