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Little trooper Brave girl has to travel over 300km from Kerry to Dublin for cancer treatment

The family's nightmare began when Alannah was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), a condition that can cause benign tumours to grow on nerve tissue.

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Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

Little Alannah Foley looks like every other happy child in cute family photographs - but life has dealt the youngster a cruel blow.

The four-year-old girl from Killorglin, Co Kerry recently started on a course of 70 chemotherapy sessions to reduce a tumour that is threatening her eyesight.

Plucky Alannah, who also has hydrocephalus, was first diagnosed in early 2019, and since then her life has been dominated by hospital visits to Dublin.

It has also been a life-changing situation for her parents, with her father, Andrew, being forced to give up his job as a top chef to make time for Alannah's medical care.

The family's nightmare began when Alannah was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), a condition that can cause benign tumours to grow on nerve tissue.

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Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

Geraldine and Andrew with little Alannah and her brother Adam.

In the summer of 2019, Alannah's parents noticed that she was having unusual falls and wobbles. The family GP sent her for an MRI, which revealed that she has a bilateral optic pathway glioma (slow growing tumour).

The tumour was blocking part of Alannah's brain and caused hydrocephalus, a condition which leads to an accumulation of fluid around the brain.

A few days later Alannah underwent surgery for the insertion of a shunt to help alleviate the pressure caused by the hydrocephalus.

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Alannah is a typical four-year-old.

Alannah is a typical four-year-old.

Alannah is a typical four-year-old.

However, it was recently discovered that the tumour is now damaging her eyesight.

"A couple of weeks ago her eyesight in her left eye started to be affected, so they decided to go down the chemotherapy route for 70 weeks in total, to hopefully shrink the tumour and prevent further damage," Andrew tells the Sunday World.

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"It's tough to see your kid, or any child, going through chemotherapy. The tumour, thankfully, is benign, but benign is not fine, as they say. It can lead to other problems, and in this case it's affecting Alannah's sight.

"Alannah's tumour is inoperable where it is. It's on the back of her eyes, but she's doing well. She's a real little trooper. She came bouncing out of the hospital last Friday like nothing had happened, after having the dose of chemo. It's remarkable, really, how she's taking it.

"She calls the port, fitted to administer the chemo, Polly. But she's not really sure yet what the chemo is about because we're finding it hard to explain it to her. She is aware of what hydrocephalus is and she knows that she has a shunt because she can feel it behind her ear. It's going down her neck to her stomach.

"She's labelled as special, that she's a special girl and that other people have them to help them. She goes to occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and she's going to art therapy at the moment as well.

"If you didn't know Alannah you wouldn't know there was anything wrong. She's bright and bubbly and her brain function is perfect. She very smart, very intelligent and she's progressing well in pre-school."

Alannah is under the care of a team of specialists in Crumlin Children's Hospital including an oncologist, ophthalmologist and neurophysiologist. They monitor the tumour with MRIs and eye exams every three months.

"Alannah has twigged now what's going on," Andrew says. "She has to fast when she's having an MRI, so she eats all round her the day before."

Alannah and her parents have had the additional ordeal and expense of travelling to Dublin from Killorglin for her treatments, which involves leaving home at 5.30am and staying overnight in hotels.

"Geraldine and myself are doing OK. We're trying to support each other as best we can, while supporting Alannah," Andrew says. "We're talking about it quite a lot. You just go with the flow and get into a routine.

"It has become part of the routine now to go to Dublin. We leave at 5.30 in the morning on the Friday from Killorglin. We also have 17-month-old son, Adam, so it's all go. But thankfully we have a good support network of family and friends who are there to help us."

A chef by trade, Andrew worked in some of Dublin's top restaurants, including Bon Appetit in Malahide and Fade Street Social, before the family moved back to Killorglin.

He was head chef at The Bianconi in Killorglin when Alannah became ill. "I couldn't do the hours as a chef with what's going on in our life with Alannah," says Andrew, who now works as the deli manager in Killorglin's SuperValu.

"I was lucky that a job came up that suited and I just took it. It gives me more freedom and I'm at home in the evenings."

  • A GoFundMe appeal has been launched by a friend to help the family cope with the financial costs involved in Alannah's treatment. If you would like to support it, go to Alannah and Polly's Fight For Sight Facebook page.

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