A BRAVE schoolgirl has urged young people diagnosed with cancer to "stay positive" after inspiring the public to raise tens of thousands of euro for a children's hospital.
Ciara Moran (15), a transition year student at Moate Community School, told how she initially blamed a swelling on her neck on her rucksack. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
The student, from Walderstown, Athlone, Co Westmeath, said: "It is very important when you are in and out of hospital and you see how positive they all are.
"It can seem a lot worse if you let it get you down. Keep in touch with all your friends. My friends keep me up to date with what's going on."
At first Ciara, who has two sisters – Ann Marie (12) and Nicola (17) – believed the swell-ing on her neck was nothing to be worried about.
However, her mother, Breda, was not so sure and took her to the doctor.
"The one message for people would be to go with the mother's instinct," said Ciara's father, Joseph, who is a farmer.
Ciara was then referred to specialist Dr Leonard O'Keeffe at Tullamore Hospital. He cancelled surgery scheduled for the following day and performed a biopsy on Ciara.
She was swiftly transferred to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin under the care of haematologist Dr Aengus O'Marcaigh, who diagnosed her leukaemia.
But doctors told the family they believed "her chances are very good", said Ciara's father.
"The treatment was going to last for two-and-a-half years, which was the hardest to get our heads around," he said.
Friends, family and the local community rallied round and organised a successful Tractor Run, with 253 tractors turning out in the middle of the busy lambing and calving time to raise more than €50,000 on February 24.
Our Lady's Hospital is trying to raise the remaining €4m needed to revamp its cardiac and cancer facilities, described by consultants as "cramped and out of date".
Ciara's father told how the first time she went to the hospital's St John's Ward, there was no bed available for her, and she then had to go into isolation in another ward with poor facilities.
"The first stage of the new St John's Ward has been opened and it is like chalk and cheese," he said.
A neighbour of the family and one of the fundraising organisers, Adrian Elliott, said community spirit was "still alive and well" among farmers and they would hand over more than €50,000 to the hospital.
Ciara, who is undergoing weekly chemotherapy at Our Lady's Hospital, urged people to act immediately if they find unexplained swellings.