Tuesday 21 August 2018

Cancer sufferer: 'My whole life has been filled with broken promises'

Trinity student Rachel Lavin who had cancer three times. Photo: David Conachy
Trinity student Rachel Lavin who had cancer three times. Photo: David Conachy

Claire McCormack

CANCER sufferer Rachel Lavin (22) was born the year before talks first began on the National Children's Hospital.

"My whole lifetime has basically been the promise of the children's hospital and now I'm worried about the next generation coming behind me," she told the Sunday Independent.

Since her first diagnosis, Rachel has battled cancer three times. During that period, not a single brick of the new children's hospital has been laid.

"I was born in 1992, just months before they first proposed the National Children's Hospital. I was diagnosed when I was 11 in 2004, the first year they started looking for planning. Now I am 22, I've had cancer three times and I've never seen the inside of the new children's hospital."

The final-year English student at Trinity College Dublin is now using her experience to explain to the Government and the general public that the proposed development of the children's hospital at the St James's Hospital site "won't work for kids and parents".

During her seven years attending Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and three years attending St James's adult hospital, Rachel has endured "the best and worst conditions".

She has undergone two stem cell transplants, three different courses of chemotherapy and one bout of radiotherapy. For Rachel, from Boyle, Co Roscommon, the main criteria for parents and sick children are access, space and room for expansion.

"It needs to be on the M50 - families will be coming from all over the country from Cork to Donegal three or four times a week and that should be the priority. The reason the Government has gotten away with the delay for so long is that there is no one to speak out," she said.

"The children who are sick cannot articulate their experience, parents with sick kids are so caught up in trying to help their kids survive and the fear is too great for parents without sick kids, so it's easier to throw a blind eye."

Rachel also believes medical professionals are too afraid to speak out. After being diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins Lymphoma shortly after her 11th birthday, Rachel's most prominent memory is lying in the backseat of the car as she and her parents, Gerard and Mary, became engulfed in the Dublin traffic.

"I remember my Dad carrying me out to the car at 5am and my aunt driving up to Dublin in front of us because my parents weren't confident driving up... I remember waiting in traffic and worrying about being late."

From her experience, Rachel said hospitals are constantly expanding and changing, especially every time a new treatment was developed.

"I don't want children to have to go through the conditions I went through - if they build on St James's there will be no space for treatments they don't know exist yet," she added. "They are talking about a maternity hospital, about parents' rooms, a multiple-level car park and they are putting them all in one tiny car park."

Rachel said the idea of travelling to hospital by public transport is a "daft notion". She added: "We are not talking about children travelling to hospital with a broken arm or a tummy bug. I physically wouldn't have had the energy to go on public transport and I wasn't allowed because of exposure to infection."

Rachel said the lack of parks and play areas in the proposed St James's site is also a huge disadvantage.

"Green space is really important, kids want to be outside. You need to play and forget that you are sick even for a few minutes, just to escape," she said.

Rachel and her family believe if the inner city site is given the green light it will be "the greatest planning failure in the history of the State".

"If we are supposed to judge our society on how we treat our most vulnerable, then our Government has performed very poorly."

Sunday Independent

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