Children living with cancer lead special Castle Gardens event

A GROUP of young people who have experienced the impact of cancer have created their own public awareness campaign encouraging people to walk a mile in their shoes.

The young members of the Cancer Fund for Children’s Youth Advisory Group organised a mile long walk at Antrim Castle Gardens on Saturday, inviting members of the public to wear uncomfortable shoes to make the task more difficult and reflect the challenge of living with cancer.

The group includes young people who have had a cancer diagnosis or who have a parent or sibling with cancer or others who have been bereaved as a result of cancer. Ranging in age from nine to 23, the group started in July with the aim of educating the public about the experiences of young people dealing with cancer.

Neil Symington, Director of Services for Cancer Fund for Children, said that one of the reasons the young people came up with the Mile in My Shoes event was to show a different side to children’s experiences of the disease.

“Everyone experiences cancer in a different way but children and young people often feel that their story isn’t really told. They talked openly about what a diagnosis meant to them and their families as well as the journey through treatment.

“They were keen to talk about how there were also good things during this time, for example they may have learned something new about themselves or may have got closer to their family.”

One of the young members of the advisory group, 14-year-old Maggie McMillanfrom Randalstown, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in October 2020, four days before her 13th birthday after falling down a few stairs.

“My diagnosis made me feel sad and cross. I didn’t want to be diagnosed anymore. I found it frustrating as I was able to walk into the hospital then after my operation, I had to rely on others to help as I was very ‘wobbly’,” she said.

She explained the motivation behind the Mile in My Shoes walk: “It’s a Mile in My Shoes because we’re asking people to wear uncomfortable shoes to symbolise how people walk an uncomfortable cancer journey. It was important for us to share our story so that the people can hear how Cancer Fund for Children helps us”

Maggie added: “I really enjoy being in the Youth Advisory Group. To be honest I only got involved because Helen, my Cancer Support Specialist from Cancer Fund for Children, messaged me and she said I should join it. I didn’t really know what it was, but I just agreed and thought “yeah, why not?”…but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

As well as coming up with the idea for the campaign, Youth Advisory Group members have shared their stories, asked other young people to share their stories, helped design the logo, worked on a fund-raising pack, written the corporate sponsorship proposal, taken part in a photoshoot, written posts for social media and completed a voiceover for a promotional video.

A Mile in My Shoes is sponsored by LM Paints in Ballymena.

Laura O’Hare, the Cancer Support Specialist for the Cancer Fund for Children, said the young people had done ‘a remarkable job’ setting up and running their campaign and organising the walk.

“I’m so proud of all the work they’ve done with the support of our team. To have created a full campaign having only got involved in the Youth Advisory Group nine months ago, with no prior experience of campaigns or organising events and only being able to meet three times in person during this time, whilst dealing with the impact of cancer is incredible.”

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