There aren’t many people in this corner of the world who won’t in the last year or so have read about Oscar Knox. Wee Oscar, as he’s become affectionately known, is just that. A wee boy, who was diagnosed with a serious, potentially fatal form of childhood cancer in 2011.
At the time, he was two and with the diagnosis of Neuroblastoma his parents quickly discovered that their son had a 30 per cent chance of survival. That’s a fairly harsh reality to be faced with.
My son turns two next month. He’s a ball of energy, with a personality developing every day. He’s amazing - but then I would say that.
When I first read about the Oscar Knox story and saw his beautiful little tired looking face, straight away I picked out a straight resemblance between him and my own wee man and since then, with every photo of the toddler that popped up on my Twitter feed, I took a sharp intake of breath.
Oscar’s parents mounted a mammoth publicity campaign to raise vital funds needed for their little boy to get treatment in America which wasn’t available here. I’m in complete awe of the energy they seemed to have when they must have been completely petrified of losing their wee man.
This week, Oscar was given the all clear from doctors. The story which captured the hearts of thousands in the North has had a happy ending. But it begs the question, what would have happened if these parents hadn’t been so determined.
Case after case on this side of the water has shown that when it comes to very specialised treatment, the only hope is a trip to the US - if you can raise the money.
That’s a big ‘if’ for the average person. The amounts needed are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds bracket and unaffordable for most of us.
But Stephen and Leona Knox started fighting in the only way they knew how. They started telling anyone who would listen about Oscar’s condition. They targeted every social network they could and asked people to donate money so that they could fund the kind of specialised treatment he needed.
Soon, the Wee Oscar acocunt on Twitter hit 30,000 followers and every journalist wanted a bite of the story.
The money was raised and Oscar travelled to America but due to heart problems he wasn’t able to avail of the immunotherapy that his family had hoped would save his life. He deteriorated rapidly and was eventually transferred back to Belfast by air ambulance. His parents were told to say their final goodbyes. In a blog during that time, his father Stephen writes:
“Last Wednesday night we were told to prepare for the worst, and we did. We made sure Izzie (Oscar’s younger sister) spent some time with Oscar, and we each said our private goodbyes. It would be distasteful to talk about it any further than that, but it was surreal, and heart wrenching, to say the least. We made those preparations over the weekend too, very bleak days. The doctors here wanted a discussion with us about ‘when is enough enough?’ - that was very traumatic. When IS enough enough? When do you give up on your child?”
When I read that at the time, and this week for this column, I wanted to cry.
There are parents who have been faced with that decision. There are parents who have had to let their children go which brings with it a pain that’s impossible to quantify in words.
Stephen and Leona Knox have been to hell and back, that as parents of healthy children, is as far as any of us are able to contemplate of their horrific situation. From a safe distance we all watch on, donate what we can and hug our children with all our might and even those without a God pray that we’ll be spared such pain.
But in the meantime, Wee Oscar and his parents have gotten the news they wished for for so long, and that, in a world of doom and gloom is just a massive ray of sunshine.