'A scan in January showed my daughter's brain tumour was smaller - it was a miracle' - coach of IGT winners RDC celebrates double win
The coach of Ireland's Got Talent winners Rhythm Dance Company says winning the show is the icing on the cake for her family just weeks after her daughter received positive news about her brain tumour.
Billie Jean, who coached the 31-member dance group to success on the hit TV3 show on Sunday night, is also mum to group member Nell Sargent (14), who is living with an inoperable brain tumour.
Nell was diagnosed with the tumour at the age of three and endured two long stints of chemotherapy followed by brain scans every three months, extending to every year only recently.
"When I think back to 8 March, 2007, the day she was diagnosed, I can't believe where she is today," says Billie Jean of her daughter.
"Well, I can, because we chose to live as positively as we could. We couldn't function when we thought about what was going on. We had to train our brains to just dismiss any negative thoughts of what could happen and stay positive."
Although Nell has remained stable in recent years, the tumour is still present, but the family had some good news in January this year, in the midst of training for Ireland's Got Talent.
"I was so nervous for that scan in January because I thought if it all goes wrong it's going to ruin Ireland's Got Talent for her," reveals Billie Jean.
"Even though the tumour is still there and we're not going in expecting a clear scan, we found out in January that the tumor had gotten smaller on its own.
"It was unbelievable, a miracle for us. And the timing was just perfect. I couldn't tell you how that felt as a mother and a coach - the relief of that news."
Billie Jean reveals that she is not a devout Catholic, but is a very spiritual person, and credits her constant prayers to Padre Pio's mother for her daughter's good news.
"Everybody prays to Padre Pio for healing and I was praying to him for ages when she was first sick and nothing was happening. I was getting impatient so I went in to church and I prayed to his mother and I said, 'Go find your son. As a mom tell your son to go and cure Nell.' And I asked St Anthony to find good scans for Nell too.
"It sounds crazy but we were distraught. We thought we were going to lose her. She had already permanently lost the sight in her left eye. And then we got this good news in January in the midst of Ireland's Got Talent and it was just amazing."
Billie Jean has been running her performing arts school in Middleton for years, branching out from just dancing to musical theatre eight years ago. She credits dance with helping her to work through her emotions and for helping them to fight and to get to where they are today.
"It's hard, don't get me wrong," she says of being positive and fighting, but adds, "But your love for your child and the love for your life before the diagnosis empowers you to say, 'I'm not having it'. It was a decision my husband and I made and it has worked for us.
"We're lucky. Some people aren't so lucky."
Billie Jean, Nell, the rest of RDC (which also includes Nell's older sister Claudia, 18, and brother William, 11) are living in the moment for now and basking in their success. Next up it's a Christmas show and business as usual at the school.
As for the €50,000 prize, Nell says it "belongs to the team" and she wants to "make sure they get as much as they can out of it".
Taking part in Ireland's Got Talent has been a costly endeavour for the Cork-based group as they had to buy three sets of costumes, and pay for all their own travel up and down to Dublin as well as accommodation and food. They could not seek sponsorship until recently as they were sworn to secrecy about the show. Bilie Jean estimates they spent about €1000 per child.
However, she says they were all happy to take part and adds, "This win is life-changing for those kids. Even socially, their confidence. And Middleton has been so supportive - they can't wait to get us back down there today for a homecoming!"
Read more: RDC crowned winners of Ireland's Got Talent