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Fair play Sports-mad teen Freya Fitzpatrick reveals impact of being diagnosed with brain tumour

Freya started seeing double while playing football one day before being diagnosed with cancer

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Freya is happy to be back on the pitch

Freya is happy to be back on the pitch

Freya is happy to be back on the pitch

It’s not easy being a teenage girl, and it’s even harder when you’ve little or no hair. But this is not something you notice on meeting 16-year-old Freya Fitzpatrick O’Doherty. Her obvious beauty and dignified, winning personality shine through.

Indeed, given her complete lack of self-pity, it’s hard to believe she’s been through a horrendous cancer ordeal. Freya’s symptoms first started in March 2018.

“I was getting really bad headaches,” she explains matter-of-factly. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night and without even feeling sick, I would all of a sudden throw up.”

Her parents, Aidan and Emma, took her to a GP who was as baffled as they were. But when she found herself seeing double, whilst playing Gaelic football one day, he ordered an MRI. “I was told it was a box ticking exercise and I wasn’t too worried,” says Freya. “But a few hours later my mother got a phone call to say it was a brain tumour.”

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Freya before she was diagnosed.

Freya before she was diagnosed.

Freya before she was diagnosed.

The tumour was the worst kind possible. Located in the base of the skull, near the cerebellum, it would have to be removed immediately. But the surgery was complicated.

A condition known as posterior fossa syndrome could have affected the brain surgery, and there was a 33pc chance her motor functions and speech would be severely affected. If her balance went, she might not be able to walk. “I was shocked at the diagnosis,” says Freya who was just 11 at the time. “But I don’t I think I completely understood what it meant.”

Her parents, however, did. “I still relive that day,” says her father Aidan, shaking his head, clearly pained by the memory. “It was like being transported into another dimension. It didn’t seem real.”

The surgery was scheduled to take place four days later in Beaumont Hospital. Meanwhile, the enormity of the situation began to hit Freya. “I started thinking, ‘Wow. This is life threatening. I could die,” she says. “It was really scary.”

It took a gruelling 10 hours, but the surgery was successful and 90pc of the tumour was removed. Freya emerged unscathed. This was just the first part of her ordeal, however. “We found ourselves in a strange limbo after that,” recalls Aidan.

“The tumour was very malignant and that meant Freya needed heavy duty radiotherapy and chemotherapy and we didn’t know how she would react to it.”

A month later, Freya started six weeks of intensive radiotherapy. “They had to painstakingly map out where the radiation would hit, in order to protect the healthy brain cells,” explains Aidan. “Freya had to wear a mask made specifically for her and be strapped down to a table for hours at a time. She found it very distressing.”

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The radiation made her hair fall out. It also affected her appetite and made her nauseous. “It did get a bit easier as time went on,” says Freya.

“But I found myself very tired towards the end of it.” Freya has always loved sport and in particular, football and Gaelic football. Despite her tiredness, she still managed to compete in her school Sports Day.

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After undergoing heavy cancer treatment Freya dyed her hair pink.

After undergoing heavy cancer treatment Freya dyed her hair pink.

After undergoing heavy cancer treatment Freya dyed her hair pink.

Next came months of gruelling chemotherapy in Crumlin Children’s Hospital. That proved tougher. There were complications. For example, she proved allergic to one of the drugs she was taking. She also found it difficult to eat and was put on a feeding tube. She spent her 13th birthday in ICU.

“We had some nervous moments at that time,” recalls Aidan, adding that the whole experience took a toll on every member of the family in different ways.

“I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy,” he says. “Although Freya obviously bore the brunt of it, it was an isolating experience for all of us.”

Despite her ordeal, Freya has some good memories of her time in hospital. Highlights included visits from The Limerick hurling team and the Dublin football team.

“The staff in Crumlin were also amazing,” she adds. The family also had support from Freya’s then football club – Larkview FC ,who held a fundraiser for her, as well as Templeogue Synge Street who raised money to go to St John’s Cancer Ward in Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and to help with her expenses.

“Lots of very kind people also held private fundraisers for her,” explains Aidan. “We were blown away by the support.” He adds: “Freya’s resilience has been extraordinary, and also that of her mum. Emma’s strength throughout it all has been incredible. The bond between them is amazing and now immutable.”

Freya’s dream is to, one day, play professional football and so she was determined to get back on the pitch. As soon as she was physically able to, she attended physiotherapy. “She was really frail and nauseous, at the time” explains Aidan. “But she pushed on. She was so determined.”

Her hard work paid off. She’s back playing soccer for St Joseph’s FC and football for Templeogue Synge Street. She’s even coaching the Metro Girl’s League Under 16s team.

Although she still has a scan every six months, these days Freya is cancer-free and all the more appreciative of her life. Currently going into Fourth Year at St Louis High School in Rathmines, she’s also joined an online group called Canteen – for Irish teenagers who have had cancer.

“It absolutely helps if you can talk to people your own age about the experience,” she says. Unfortunately her lovely blonde has not grown back. But rather than hide her lack of her hair, brave Freya recently had it dyed pink.

“For ages, I wanted my hair to grow back long like it used to be,” she says. “But these days I’ve stopped caring and I just accept it. “

“I didn’t think I’d be able to dye it pink because of how short and thin it was,” she says. “But the hairdresser did an amazing job and I felt great!”

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