Tag Archives: siblings

NEAW 2017 – No man is an island

Sometimes, when you’re stuck in the midst of the relentless demands and emotional turmoil of a chronic illness, it’s difficult to see beyond your immediate reality and nearly impossible to believe that anyone else can even begin to understand how you’re feeling at that moment in time. It is no surprise that the one with the diagnosis often becomes self-centred and self-absorbed as their illness dictates every facet of their life and it can take a long time to really grasp that there are others out there who can empathise because of their own struggles and experiences. It’s all too easy for the focus of family, friends and the outside world to be focused fully on the individual and often the others affected by the diagnosis are left to struggle on their own by the wayside.

Over the years we have worked hard to try to give G the attention she deserves and it’s heartbreaking to realise that there are more times than I care to admit where we have absolutely failed to get that balance right. M’s ill-timed admissions over G’s birthday for 2 years in row were a bitter pill to swallow for us all and nothing could really make up for the disappointment of spending her 12th birthday too many miles apart. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group and the GOSH YPF as well as applying for her to be a part of the Over The Wall siblings camps have all been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health challenges have had on her over the last 13 years and supporting her to find her own identity that is completely independent from him. It is an ongoing process for us and Mike and I will continue to strive everyday to support G as much as she needs, especially as the emotional roller-coaster of her teen years starts.

Just as our family is affected by M’s EGID diagnosis, so too is the community that surrounds him. I have mentioned so many times the amazing village school that both G and M have attended and everyday am grateful for their unfaltering support. Since M arrived at their gates nearly 4 years ago, they have willingly taken on the responsibility of dealing with a child with complex additional needs, not just medical but educational too. They have allowed both children, and us, to promote NEAW and their continued support with our fundraising efforts has been fantastic. I regularly read about the problems other parents with EGID children are facing in their schools around the UK and I know that we’re incredibly lucky to found this little gem. M has been able to attend school with a feeding tube, a broken leg and an extremely restricted diet and his attendance is remarkable for a child who has been through so much in so short a time. His Year 6 teacher has been fantastic at encouraging him this year when the prospect of SATS has caused him unbelievable anxiety and she has put up with a plethora of emails as I’ve tried to iron out the biggest wrinkles in a stress-filled few months. His classmates have similarly been an irrefutable source of encouragement and his move up to secondary school in September will be eased by their presence in his life.

We do not live in splendid isolation and every action we take has a ripple effect that can stretch out further than we can ever imagine, especially as a child. We are extremely lucky to have a community that works with us to help both children have the childhood that they are entitled to enjoy, one that is all too often marred by the difficult reality of chronic illness. As G and M grow older, my hope is that the realisation slowly dawns that whilst everyone’s life is unique, there are moments that teach us all lessons that can help us reach out to and empathise with others. Going to Over The Wall camps has shown both children that, despite those times when they feel isolated, there are others in the bigger world that do understand what they’re feeling, what they’re living and who can perhaps help them learn to survive even the darkest of emotions; and that when they have survived their own dark place, they can reach out to others who need to be brought back into the sun.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

NEAW 2017 – Wings to fly

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you face is helping your child grow in self-confidence, develop independence and to ultimately give them the wings they need to fly away from the security of the family home. There are so many obstacles to overcome along the way and when a chronic illness is thrown into the mix, it can feel almost impossible to let your child take those first steps on their own. Our determination to not let EGID define either child means that every day is an opportunity to let go of our own anxieties and concerns, and encourage them to make their own decisions regardless of the limitations that health, medicine and diet place on them. Of course, much as we work to equip G and M with the skills they’ll need as they grow up, I know that they need to learn so much more than what Mike and I can teach them on our own and so we always look for any opportunity to develop their learning from experiences that are beyond our ability to give.

That’s why once again this year, I completed the application forms for both G and M to attend the fantastic camps offered by charity, Over The Wall, knowing that their respective weeks away from home will be all about friendship and understanding and being amongst equals and building self-esteem and so, so much more. When G came home from the South Siblings Camp last year, she was a different child to the one who had left us just 5 days before. The time spent with others who have a similar home life to her was invaluable as she realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances; and the focus on her and making sure that she had the best time she could helped G to find a self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. Likewise, M had what could only be described as the best week ever as he was able to spend a week away from home without family for the first time in his life. He tried his hand at activities that had terrified him before and he too found great comfort in the realisation that he is not on his own in his health challenges.

We were all delighted when G heard she had a place at this year’s Siblings Camp and we couldn’t wait to hear all about her adventures there as a Green Girl. From the moment I dropped her off with some familiar faces, including the unexpected, but much welcome presence of G’s buddy from the GOSH YPF who was volunteering for the very first time, I knew that she was destined for another great week. Their unfailing attention to detail and care for the young people they were responsible for during the camp was impressive. We received a phone-call on the second night to say that whilst G was having an amazing time, she was struggling with the “fancy” gluten- and dairy-free food that the chefs were lovingly preparing for her and wasn’t really eating as much as they would like.  A quick catch-up to understand G’s food preferences and the reassurance that they would continue to keep an eye on her was all I needed to be certain that their care was absolutely everything I could want it to be.

M, Mike and I were all able to make the journey to pick G up at the end of her week away and were all immersed in the joy that is the camp bubble of OTW for the short time that we were there. Our Green Girl had tried her hand at most things, exceeded her own limitations and came away with a much-deserved pride in her achievements. This photo of a beaming G at the top of the climbing wall reflects her determination to overcome her self-proclaimed fear of heights and the pride she felt when she surpassed what she managed last year to achieve: more than she had ever believed herself capable of doing. Unlike the previous year, when she had been reluctant to take part in the Talent show, this time round, she went prepared with a routine she’s been working on during her school dance club and performed with a confidence and grace that reaped an impressive number of compliments as well as moving her YPF buddy to tears with her passion for her dance. G became good friends with several in her team and has been keeping in contact with them in the weeks following camp. She has developed a confidence and willingness to take on new challenges, knowing that, with a little bit of self-belief and perseverance, no mountain is too big for her to conquer.

It is thanks to Over The Wall that my children are becoming all that they can be and are learning that chronic illness doesn’t have to be a hurdle to anything they want to do. Over The Wall truly gives both our children wings to fly and our thanks just don’t seem to be enough.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

 

Young Carers Awareness Day 2017

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day, a national day for the recognition of the estimated 700,000 Young Carers in the UK. I’ve written before about Young Carers and how G was finally recognised as one last year. She now regularly attends our local carers support group and has developed friendships with a couple of other girls who are in her year at her secondary school. Young Carers can care in a number of ways, the most obvious being giving physical help to family members, but, as we discovered with G, the emotional and psychological support given is just as important to recognise and can take just as big a toll on the young person. Organisations such as the Carers Trust, Barnados and Over The Wall all work to ensure that these young people are given the same opportunities as their friends and have time to be a child. This support is vital to ensure that G, her friends and others like them have as happy, healthy and balanced a childhood as they can.

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Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.

And the money kept rolling in…

Every year when National Eosinophil Awareness Week rolls around, we start thinking about how we’re going to raise more awareness about EGID, particularly in the public eye. During that first year, our focus was all about our awareness as a family and understanding more about how his diagnosis with this rare condition was impacting on M’s everyday life. As time has passed, we’ve looked for different ways to spread the word, reaching out into the wider community and have found that our efforts have naturally evolved to encompass an element of fundraising as well. Whilst the focus of NEAW is rightly about otwmaking sure more people know about this condition and what it means to be living with it, and donations of time are as valuable, if not more so than those of money, we know that any money we can raise will make a difference to the charities we choose to support.

This year we wanted to show our appreciation for the amazing work done by Over The Wall in running camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. The truly fantastic week away that G enjoyed at Easter made an incredible difference to her, perhaps even more than we realised at the time. During a recent conversation with G and M about the Allergy UK Hero awards, we got to discussing the reasons why we might nominate each other for an award. To my surprise G stated that my efforts at finding out about and then sorting out her week away at camp was the best example of how I had made a significant difference to her life as an allergy-sufferer and sibling to a chronically ill child. That comment, for me, sums up just how significant the opportunity to have time away from the stresses and strains of life at home with M and to just be a child really was to her.

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During May, I started to document how our fundraising efforts were going and the different opportunities I had found to raise even more for our chosen charity. We had fantastic support from M’s school, who helped him raise an incredible £81 for OTW and through stalls at local community events and generous friends and family members, we raised another £172. Even better, we still have two fundraising plans in the pipeline, both of which came as something of a surprise to me, albeit a wonderful one. The first came when we were part-way through NEAW16, when I received an unexpected phone-call from the Head of Year 7 at G’s secondary school. Thanks to the continued support from our local press and a well-timed article in the local paper, she had a proposition that overwhelmed me and almost rendered me speechless. Year 7 had an enrichment week coming up after May half-term and, as a lead-in to their week of activities, the year group would be having a non-uniform day on the previous Friday. Her suggestion was that the school would use the day to help us raise awareness of EGID and that the money collected on the day itself would be donated to OTW. indexThe reasoning behind this plan was simple and easy to understand: G and M. They wanted to show support to G as one of their own and, knowing how much she had benefitted from her week away and recognising her commitment to supporting M during NEAW, believed that this was the perfect opportunity to do it.

I was more than happy to agree to this proposal and G was soon on board too. She was asked to write a small piece about EGID, NEAW and OTW that would be shared during tutor time on the Friday morning and each tutor was asked to show their group the short film G and M had created for the week. A well-researched, well-written and fully comprehensive letter was sent out by the school to all families explaining EGID and the charity that the money given on the day would be going to.

This week a cheque was presented to G during the weekly Year 7 assembly for an amazing £280, or thereabouts. The Year 7 Head told me that there were several donations made that exceeded the suggested £1 because the funds are going to a charity that have already helped G and M – something I can’t thank my fellow parents for enough. This money will make a difference to Over The Wall and it’s great to feel that we’re giving a little back. It means that so far we’ve raised an astonishing £530, or thereabouts, which covers half the cost for a child to attend the OTW sibling camp. I don’t know what our final fundraising total for this year will be as there is still one event left to go in August, but I’m glad that we have been able to make such a success of our efforts so far.otw

NEAW 2016 – Through the eyes of a child

Last year M decided to create a presentation that he could use to explain EGID and his feeding tube to his school. He and G worked together to produce a video telling the story of the first 9 years of his life, which they then showed to all the classes and took part in 8 separate Q&A sessions to help their peers understand more; something they did with great success. This year my dynamic duo took on the challenge again and decided to work on something completely different. M worked hard to write a story looking at EGID through his eyes, which G then illustrated and, with a little help from me, they have made a video that reflects their understanding of his chronic illness. M has again shown the film at school, although this time it was used in today’s whole school assembly rather than shown to each class in turn. Our aim was to explain EGID in a way that children would completely understand and hopefully would enjoy. We really hope that you enjoy it as much as we loved making it and please share it on to help us raise as much awareness as we possibly can.

 

Just a reminder that as well as raising awareness of EGID this week, we are also fundraising for Over The Wall Serious Fun camps. If you are able to donate, even a small amount, that donation with make a big difference to children like M and G, who benefit massively from these camps. You can donate via my Just Giving page or the link on the side of this page. Thank you!

Over The Wall

It was last summer when I first heard about Over The Wall and the amazing camps they run across the UK for children with serious health problems. M’s GOSH and EGID friend, R and his big sister, I otwwere fortunate to go to one and the photos and comments about it posted by their Mum, Annie left me determined to find out more and see whether M might similarly qualify for a place.

Over the Wall is a UK-based charity that is part of the international SeriousFun Children’s Network, which is based on an original idea set up by actor Paul Newman in the 1980s. He identified that the popular US summer camps attended by thousands of American school children every year often left out children living with chronic health conditions because of the inability of camp volunteers to cope with the often complex medical needs. His vision was to open up that opportunity to every child, regardless of their health needs, and he helped to provide full support for every child whilst they were away from home. These children got the full “camp” experience as they were unaccompanied by parents or carers and were able to enjoy a touch of “normal” in their otherwise complicated lives. From that simple starting point, one camp spread across the US and into countries across the world and soon followed the realisation that not only did the sick child miss out, but so, all too often, did their siblings and the idea for a separate siblings camp was formed.

I was delighted to learn about the siblings camp and, feeling that this was another great opportunity for G to escape the constraints of a sick sibling and be surrounded and supported by others in the same situation, duly applied; and so it was that a couple of weeks ago, G headed off to deepest, darkest Dorset for a week of serious fun. Just as her Young Carers group gives her the opportunity to have time away from M with other local youngsters in similar supporting roles, G spent the week with other 8-17 year olds from across the South of England and Wales, who all have 1 thing in a common: a brother or sister living with a chronic health problem. IMG_2504It was a week to be herself, not defined or viewed in her role as M’s big sister, and encouraged to take time to focus on herself without worrying about M and how he would feel.

The children who attend are split into 8 groups: 4 colours determined by their age, with orange for the youngest and blue for the oldest; and then each colour split into separate boys and girls teams. Volunteers are a key part of the camps and their numbers match camper numbers, so for the 60+ children on the 2016 South Siblings Camp, there were 60+ volunteers supporting them, encouraging them and making sure they had fun. During the week the teams participate in a number of activities, from swimming to archery and from climbing to arts and crafts and much, much more. Their days are carefully planned with breaks and an after lunch rest hour, which G tells me was strictly adhered to, as well as a cabin chat every evening, where the teams reflect on their days and every member is awarded a bead to recognise what they’ve achieved. IMG_2589Discos, team games, inter-team challenges, morning singsongs, new activities, skills learned, old favourites and even a talent show sum up G’s week away.

G’s enthusiasm about her time on camp has been wonderful to hear and she was keen to teach M the camp songs and share so many snippets of everything she got up to whilst there. I love the fact that there was little or no discussion about their chronically ill siblings, but instead the focus was well and truly where it needed to be – on these children who all too frequently miss out. I was impressed with the array of meaningful mementoes that G brought home with her, as impressed as she was delighted. More than just her purple OTW t-shirt and a black one for M, but also a carefully crafted wooden bird-box, team and camp photos, a hand-print card holding the reflections of the team – both peers and volunteers – on who G is as a person and why they appreciated her, and that precious collection of beads reflecting her achievements during the week, recognised by her team volunteers and accompanied by a written record of why they felt she had earned them. All of these things have built up her self-confidence in those few days away and have helped her feel even more valued within this new group of friends.

For us, it was an unnaturally quiet week in the household and there was a definite sense of something missing from our every activity. IMG_3019M was reluctant to admit to missing having G around to play with and torment, but his move to sleep in her bed every night she was away revealed the depth of those feelings he didn’t want to show.

As a parent, you know you’re on to a good thing when you child asks for more and G has already asked if we can apply for her to go again next year if at all possible. Her enthusiasm about her experience has bubbled over and infected the whole family with M now having everything firmly crossed that his application for a place on the August Health Challenges Camp is successful. That would see him having those same opportunities to enjoy as G in an environment that we can be confident will be safe for him as there are medical volunteers and 1-to-1 support for the chronically ill children. Even better, the children have decided to make OTW the focus of their fundraising efforts during National Eosinophil Awareness Week this May. The one thing I haven’t mentioned is that these camps are offered completely free to those children who attend, making them truly accessible to all, which is a really fantastic part of this charity. Any funds that G and M can raise will help make a huge difference to others like them and if you’d like to make a small donation, you can do so via this link or the button on the right, with our thanks.

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Reaching out

I am, without a doubt, a firm believer that things happen for a reason and that the lessons I’ve learned, the situations we’ve survived and the successes we’ve fought for and achieved over the last few years have given me an understanding and empathy that nothing else could have done in the same way. I have discovered within myself a strength I didn’t know was lurking, which has seen me through some of the darkest days I’ve ever had to face. My Mum and Aunt love to remind me I come from a line of strong women and these challenges have helped me grow even stronger. The struggles I’ve had to face have enabled me to reach out and bring some comfort and reassurance and offer an ear always ready to listen when others have most needed it. What’s more, not only can I speak from a shared experience and the common bond of parenting a child with a chronic illness, but I want to give support when it’s most needed. you-never-know-how-strong-you-are-until-being-strong-is-the-only-choice-you-haveThat incomparable insight is what almost makes the challenges of M’s health worthwhile, for whilst I would give anything for him not to have to live with a rare illness like EC, it has, without a doubt, given me a compassion and understanding beyond what I would otherwise have known.

When setting up my blog 3 years ago, part of the process was to pen something that would honestly capture who I am and the reasons behind my decision to start it to include in my “About me” page. I won’t deny that this blog has undoubtedly become an inexpensive form of therapy for me, allowing me to explore my innermost thoughts and feelings about the chronic illness that has dominated so much of the last 10 years of our lives as well as sharing our experiences of it; but that wasn’t my raison d’être. What I wanted most was to be able to reach out to others who were facing similar challenges “…if I am able to speak to the heart of even one parent who is going through the same turmoils, then I know the hard work will have been worth it…” In the months since I first wrote down that somewhat ambitious desire, I have received the occasional e-mail telling me that what I’ve written has really resonated with another parent, responses that have meant so much as they acknowledge an achievement of my goal above and beyond what I originally wanted.

Knowing that I have received those messages you could easily assume that I might consider it a job well done and just leave it there, but over the last few weeks I have received more messages of encouragement than I ever anticipated and have found myself in the position of being able to offer support and advice when I least expected it. Those opportunities have drawn on the many facets of my life experiences, from seeking a diagnosis of EC to coping with a new diagnosis of T1D and from facing the daunting reality of tube-feeding to the challenge of switching a child to a gluten-free diet. What is even more amazing is that the people I’ve been talking to have been a mix too: Mums from school, friends met through support groups and those just looking for reassurance from someone who has already walked the path they now find themselves on. I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these things, but I am an expert in my child and our experiences and can offer an insight into how we have coped and the tips I’ve picked up along the way. When we started out on our search for a diagnosis for M, and then again when we made the decision to move to tube-feeding, the information readily available was scant and it took dedicated research and hours of reading, and re-reading, medical journals and the such-like to even begin to understand what we were facing. It was thanks to on-line forums such as FABED and PINNT and their members that we began to truly comprehend the complexities of life with a chronically ill child. social-media-treeMy blog has simply been an effective way to put all of our experiences into one place, hopefully with some useful pointers for others in the same shoes and, by doing that, to create my very own, very personal resource.

What’s even better in my opinion is that my passion to reach out and help others has been adopted by both children too. G has developed an empathy and understanding that extends out from the home into the classroom and wider world, and which has been commented on in recent weeks by her teachers and the volunteers at camp. She shows an amazing amount of tolerance towards the challenging behaviours and differing views of her peers and is always prepared to listen and respect what they have to say, whilst standing her ground with her own opinions. G is also sympathetic to those who are in the same position of having a sibling with a chronic illness and can fully understand the frustrations that the sometimes difficult behaviours of those siblings can cause. Whilst sometimes reluctant to deal with M at home, she never hesitates to offer help to those around her when it’s needed.

In similar fashion, M has developed a compassion that I can only attribute to the reality of a life altered beyond recognition by EC and multiple food allergies. At a recent birthday party, one of his friends was confined to a wheelchair due to an ankle injury and M immediately stepped in to make sure this friend could be as involved as possible, despite the constraints of the wheelchair. He took the time to push his friend around the garden so he could join in the activities and toasted marshmallows on the camp-fire for him, even though he wasn’t able to eat them himself. Likewise, another good friend has just been switched to a gluten-free diet and M has made sure he sits with him during lunchtimes at school to discuss the different foods that C has been trying. The parent of this friend rocked my world nearly 3 years ago by inviting M home for tea and being willing to cook to suit his complicated needs, not just that one time, but numerous times since. It feels rather wonderful to know that my boy is now returning that favour and giving this friend the chance to vent about his new diet.

I don’t know what the next few months will bring and the opportunities to offer support may start to dwindle, but there’s one thing I know for sure, as a family we will all continue to reach out and help out whenever we can.

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Day 5: But who supports the supporters?

Family on Blackboard-webWhen you are tube-fed, I think it’s only natural to expect the support of your nearest and dearest, especially in the case of the tube-fed child. In a recent interview about her MS diagnosis, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler from the US TV show “The Sopranos” said that “when one person in the family has a chronic illness, the whole family has it.” and this really resonated with me. M, I hope, has never needed to question the unfailing and unconditional support that Mike and I will give him along every step of his journey, but it’s not just us who have walked that way with him over the last 12 months. Without any say in the matter, G has been dragged along for the ride too and has been a great comfort and support to M when it matters most, arguments and fallings-out aside. I have talked before about the amazing community that surrounds our family, but G has been something of an unsung hero in the story. Over the last few years we have seen her struggle to cope with the reality of having a chronically ill brother, which has manifested itself in behaviour and attitudes that are less than ideal and which need love and understanding in the most testing of times. We work hard to try to give G as much time as we can, but sometimes that can’t be as much as we’d want, especially when going through a particularly tough time with M. Sometimes siblings need more time than the parents can find, so who is it that can help parents support these young supporters?

Many people will have heard of Young Carers projects, but perhaps will not realise how massive and vital a role these groups can play in families dealing with chronic illness. Young carers are defined as “children and young people who often take on practical and/or emotional caring responsibilities that would normally be expected of an adult.” Being a young carer is an isolating experience as the child may be reluctant to discuss their home life with friends at school for fear of bullying and will often feel that they are in a unique situation. imagesYoung Carers groups try to meet on a regular basis to give the youngsters a much-needed break from the day-to-day, the opportunity to meet other young carers who will truly understand the pressures and strains they are under and the chance to have fun and be a child. Depending on the location, and sadly on the funding available, these organisations may offer evening clubs, weekends away, days out and even holidays as well as friendly advice, information and counselling to both the young carer and their family. In our area, there is also a school worker who runs lunchtime clubs at some of the local secondary schools, hold awareness assemblies and will act as an advocate for the child if needed.

Frequently these youngsters don’t identify themselves in the role of a young carer and it came as no surprise to me that G didn’t as I certainly had never really thought about her in terms of being a young carer until fairly recently. Thanks to a well-placed poster, a stray comment at school and some gentle prodding from a fab EGID friend, I contacted our local Young Carers group, filled in their referral document and sent it off with my fingers tightly crossed that something helpful would come from it. With the most amazing coincidental timing, at almost the same time that I was waiting for a reply, G had spotted a poster in the Year 7 canteen, took a photo on her phone and showed it to me, asking if I thought this was something that she could find out more about. Delighted that she was interested in this support and wanting to encourage her to investigate the opportunity under her own steam too, I agreed that she should contact the teacher named and see what further information she would be given from within school. P1000101She and a close friend in a not-too-dissimilar position have since met with this teacher a couple of times and have been given more information about our local young carers group as well as a list of useful contact names and numbers.

We also had a positive response from my referral form and last week G and I met with Hannah, one of the Young Carers team. She was with us for about an hour and talked to G about all things Young Carers. Having established that G understood what was meant by the term “young carer”, Hannah then took the time to explain how G fit into that role and then they discussed at length just how G helps M and the rest of the family and how she feels about it. I stayed in the kitchen the whole time, but switched between sitting at the table with them and carrying on with preparing feeds, meds, packed lunches and dinner in order to give G the chance to open up about her feelings. I reassured her that we wanted her to be 100% honest about the emotional impact that M’s illness has on her and was pleased to hear her being just that. Nothing she said surprised me in the slightest and I found it a relief to see her open to the idea of the Young Carers groups and all they can offer. She is keen to get started as soon as possible and is just waiting for the paperwork to be processed and the invitation to drop onto the doormat Hogwarts-style!

I am fascinated and pleased to see that there is an increasing awareness worldwide of the lasting impact of chronically ill siblings on children and the need to seek ways to effectively support them as they grow up, often in the shadow of the sick child. Last year I became aware of another fantastic project, this time by Australian photographer, Alexandrena Parker and Rare Voices Australia, entitled The Forgotten Ones, which sought to highlight this aspect of the rare disease community and unsung-hero-greport…to celebrate and recognise the unspoken and often forgotten support that siblings provide to loved ones suffering.” This is just one person’s small step to make a difference to these unfailing supporters, but with the help of projects like The Forgotten Ones and Young Carers, we can all help support our sick children and their unsung heroes.

 

*The wonderful charity, Over the Wall, also provides respite camps for sick children, their siblings and their families, either all together or separately. You can find out more here.

A Girl’s Best Friend

For as long as I can remember – and trust me, my long-term memory is legendary in our household – G has been passionate about learning to ride. Both she and M did a brief stint at a nearby riding stable when she was about 5, but school, hospital appointments and other hobbies soon absorbed a lot of our time and riding somehow fell by the wayside. G frequently talks of her plans to own horses when she’s older and 20151018_131727has declared on more than one occasion that she has no plans to learn to drive when she reaches 17, but will instead ride her horse wherever she needs to go. Over the last 18 months or so, she started asking about the possibility of riding lessons again and it was then that my Mum came up with the idea of rewarding all her hard work for her SATs with a short course of lessons.

It took careful planning, the odd bit of rearranging and some tentative pencilling-in, but finally everything was sorted and G started her lessons. Her first lesson was a group one, but it quickly became obvious that she would learn more and progress quicker with some more focussed teaching and so we switched to a 30-minute individual lesson every other weekend. To say she is delighted to be fulfilling this long-held dream is an understatement and she has taken to it like the proverbial duck to water. With just 3 lessons under her belt, she is already cantering around the indoor arena 20151018_133210with confidence and impressed not just her riding instructor, but me too, with her sense of balance and ability to trot round with her hands and arms in every position imaginable except where you’d expect them to be.

Needless to say, horse-riding has become her favourite pastime and we have been inundated with requests for lessons as a gift from anyone and everyone prepared to contribute for both her birthday and Christmas. It has been fantastic to see her enthusiasm grow and the wait between lessons proves almost unbearable for her at times. What is even better is that this is something just for G, there is no irritating little brother to steal her thunder, although he has come along to watch her ride once or twice. The consequences of having a brother with a chronic illness mean that all-too-often G has been relegated to the sidelines as we’ve worried about M’s health or agonised over decisions regarding his treatment and diet; but in horse-riding, the focus is all on her: her teachers know nothing about M and his health and those 30 minutes are spent doing something she really, really loves. The lessons have also become an opportunity for G and me to spend some much-needed and precious time together, to chat about school, friends and life in general without the constant demands of M dragging my attention away from her; something I think we both have come to value.

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