The first time you meet articulate and smiling 16 year-old Jamie Harkin he comes across as just your typical teenager in the middle of his GCSE examinations
Jamie, like most teenagers his age, is particular about the clothes he wears, what his hair looks like and television series ‘The Walking Dead’, but you would never guess that within the last five years he has beaten cancer not once, but twice.
In 2011 Jamie complained to parents Trisha and Damien of feeling unwell and lethargic. An x-ray of his lungs revealed that they were full of tumours and that his lung capacity was dangerously low. After a biopsy and aged 12, Jamie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 4B.
“I was the only pupil at my primary school to get into Lumen Christi College - I was so excited and then it [cancer diagnosis] happened,” said Jamie.
“I went from weighing 95kg to 55kg in a matter of months and any semblance of normality I had was all but lost,” he added.
Jamie endured aggressive chemotherapy treatment for six months which resulted in his losing all of his hair. Listening to him recount the experience through his eyes is heart-wrenching.
“I remember the first time I was sick because it was the first time I ever saw my daddy cry. I was lying in a hospital bed and he came into see me - his eyes were all red and when I asked if he was okay he said wasn’t feeling fell but I knew the sight of me in that hospital bed must have been heartbreaking for him.”
The words brave, stoic and practical come to mind when listening to Jamie talk about his battle with cancer but both Jamie and his parents and little sister Faith would be tested again when Jamie relapsed in early 2013.
Jamie and his family had noticed the return of the symptoms long before 2013 but eventually when a diagnosis was made he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit due to nephritic syndrome which affected his kidneys.
Jamie spent the best part of two months in bed and was plagued with constant chest infections but with the help and support of his parents, sister Faith, friends and close family he started to get better.
A few months before he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time Jamie took part in something that would help him through the darkest days of his fight with cancer.
It was whilst accompanying his father to work one day that Jamie first experienced Airsoft.
Airsoft is a game in which participants eliminate opponents by hitting each other with non-metallic pellets shot from replica firearms called Airsoft guns. Jamie got the Airsoft bug when he tried the game for the first time at Donegal Airsoft just outside Newtowncunnigham.
“I can’t convey to you just how addictive I find Airsoft. Whilst most teenage boys my age are passionate about football I am passionate about Airsoft - it’s so much fun.”
As a result of the severity of Jamie’s treatment his days playing Airsoft were few and far between but ever since the first visit to Donegal Airsoft he developed a life changing relationship with owner and now friend, Drew Houston.
“Drew has been of great support to me throughout my journey,” said Jamie.
“When Drew heard I was sick he called up my mum and told her that I could come and shoot at his range anytime I wanted. He said he would even open up an hour early for me so that I could have the whole place to myself.”
The friendship between Jamie and Drew has gone from strength to strength so much so that later this month Drew is hosting his annual free fun-day and all of the money raised on the day will be donated to two charities, one of which has just been set-up by Jamie.
“It’s called ‘Jamie’s Journie’ and the reason I set it up is because I want to help teenagers like me who have been affected by cancer. I had the greatest support and love from my parents and my little sister Faith when I was receiving treatment but it didn’t stop me from feeling angry, alone and down.
“‘Jamie’s Journie’ is all about giving young people my age a platform for them to come and ask the hard questions and discuss the difficult topics without fear of being judged.
“I am so happy that Drew is doing this for me - it’ll give me the chance to make sure children out there don’t have to feel as alone and as frustrated as I did,” smiled Jamie.
The Free Sunday Fun Day will take place from 12pm to 6pm on Sunday May 31 at Donegal Airsoft near Newtowncunningham (also the fifth anniversary of Donegal Airsoft). It is a free event but all of the donations on the day will be donated to Jamie’s Journie and Angel Wishes (a charity for children and families affected by cancer).
For more information on Jamie’s story visit his Facebook page ‘Jamie’s Journie’