Cork girl battled cancer at 20 months old - now she and her mum are fighting for research funding
"You never think it’s going to be you."
Lily Burke was 20 months old when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Brought to her local GP with flu-like symptoms and a high temperature, the doctor expected that she was dehydrated and would need to be put on a drip.
Mum Jessica took Lily to Cork University Hospital to have some tests done. It was early in the morning and she had expected to be home by dinner.
But at 4 o'clock, she was informed that her daughter had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - a form of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.
“It was a complete shock, I didn’t see it coming at all," Jessica tells Her.
"She didn’t have the typical symptoms that you’d read about with leukaemia, bruising or any of that. She was just a bit unwell.
"I had been told that my tiny little baby had cancer. It was desperate, I saw no way out. She got a blood transfusion straight away and the next day we went to Crumlin Children’s Hospital. She had surgery the day after that and then it was straight onto chemo."
Jessica didn't know it, but her daughter was at the starting point of almost three years of cancer treatment.
A single mother working full time, she had to take time off for the first year or so to ensure Lily was getting the care she needed.
Her daughter had some form of treatment every day - whether it was hospital visits or taking a Calpol-like medicine as part of her chemotherapy, she and Jessica spent almost all of their time between their home and the hospital.
“We were in our own little bubble," says Jessica. “She had no immune system, and with everything that’s going on now with self isolation because of the virus, that was our lives for three years.
"Lily couldn’t be around anyone. We’d see kids out playing and she couldn’t go. She was small but she knew why. She didn’t miss much, it was the norm to her.
"The doctors and nurses became like friends to her. She’d be looking forward to seeing them every time we were in the hospital."
Now 10 years old, Lily is in full health. She still has to go for checkups - and will every year until she turns 25.
Lily and Jessica
Since getting the all clear, she and her mum have been involved in a series of campaigns to raise money for cancer research. The most recent is Breakthrough's The Race That Nearly Wasn't - a 2km lockdown challenge that encourages getting fit while rising vital funds for the fight against cancer.
Participants are encouraged to run, jog or walk 2km a day for 20 days - the equivalent of a marathon - before the end of April.
All money raised will go towards Breakthrough Cancer Research. They hope to raise €40,000 by the end of the month to go towards their work on clinical trials and treatments.
Jessica says she is hopeful that people will get involved in the challenge - to keep themselves active as well as supporting vital cancer research.
"Nobody wants to be diagnosed with cancer, but when it's happening the main thing people want to be told is that it’s OK, you’ll get through it," she says.
"Right now, doctors can’t say that to everyone, but we want to get to a point where every cancer has a 100 percent survival rate. Lily’s cancer had a 90 percent survival rate, but all I could see was the other 10 percent.
"You never think it’s going to be you, but then it does happen and you’re thinking, 'why would we not fall into the lower percentage?'
“If the journey was easier, you could battle on.”