A year ago today, we set off into the unknown on what was to become a life-changing trip in many ways. We were nervous, apprehensive, scared but determined. The words "mam I just want to be normal" were etched in our minds as the flight took off and we left our "normality" behind and embarked on the journey of a lifetime. I experienced the gamut of emotions on that flight, I also noticed for the first time that Niamh's eyelashes were growing back. A sure sign that her chemo was finished. It was just a matter of time before her eyebrows and hair followed suit.
Here we are on the plane
America was never somewhere I'd thought about going, we love our holidays but the USA had never really particularly been on the list. Or rather, if it was on the list it would've been pretty far down. Like many people, I assumed that Florida was all about Disney and theme parks. I was so wrong there, there is so much more to the Sunshine State than that. It's a delight, a revelation, a real eye opener, colourful, beautiful, friendly and fun. Man, it's hot too - I mean really hot and the thunderstorms are a sight to behold. Yes, Florida is amazing, but lets focus in closer on that and talk about Jacksonville (Jax).
Jacksonville saved Niamh, simple as that. It also saved my sanity having lived a chaotic nightmare for the six months prior to going. It's very hard for me to put into words what that place means to me, to us. I watched Niamh and Conor blossom out there. The combination of sunshine, family time and positivity helped change my outlook on life entirely. Niamh lost her chemo pallor and gained rosy cheeks and a sparkle in her eye. Her smile, which had remained steadfastly throughout treatment although often albeit strained and forced at times, became constant, she radiated strength and confidence more and more as the time out there went on.
That decision to go out to America was not easy, it was not taken lightly. Ultimately it became easy when Niamh said simply "I just want a chance to be normal" - heartbreaking words to hear from a child who'd had to grow up overnight and deal with the adult issue of cancer and all that emotional crap that goes with it. A child who'd smiled through the pain from day one, who never complained, who watched her hair fall out in clumps, who had almost been paralysed, whose bravery and tenacity inspired us to get out of bed and carry on every day. My child. My wonderful Niamh. She made the decision easy because she simply wanted the best chance to be normal. So, we went.
A recent pic of Niamh
No regrets - none of us know what's round the corner for any of us. Our philosophy is to regret nothing. I concentrate on today, on making memories. I will not look back EVER and say "I wish I'd done that" because I will have done it. This journey has taught me to take nothing for granted, this fragile life is for living. We are all on borrowed time. Who knows how long any of us are here so love the ones who matter to you and forget about those who left you by the wayside. Don't sweat the small stuff - it doesn't matter. As the late great Bob Marley said "Love the life you live and live the life you love"
We are eternally grateful to Jacksonville and are proud to call it our second home. Thanks to all those who helped make that miracle happen for us and Niamh. You may never know exactly how much it meant to us, but you made a difference to a little girls life. You gave her that chance to be "normal" and that's a great thing to be able to say "I made a difference"