By Sarah Slater
A teenager has received an early birthday present with a difference, as US-based doctors have finally given the go-ahead for her to become the first Irish person to start a groundbreaking vaccine, against a rare cancer.
Robyn Smyth, 13, from Whitehall in Dublin, has been fighting an aggressive cancer called neuroblastoma, for 10 years but starts treatment with the new vaccine today. (Friday)
The teenager flew out to New York with her Mum Bernadette last week hoping to take part in the trial at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.
However, Robyn had to undergo a battery of medical tests and scans to first establish if she was “well enough” according to worried her Mum Bernadette to start the vaccine.
The family finally received the news they were hoping for and given the go-ahead on Thursday night or the treatment to start following a good PET scan result. The scan is used to highlight trouble areas in the body caused by the disease.
A relieved Bernadette said: “We were so relieved that there was nothing on the scan. Usually signing consent for things is scary because the side effects of all the stuff can be so harsh on Robyn. But this time I felt good about the scan when it was being done.
“I signed consent for Robyn’s treatment to go ahead and hope for her future thanks to all of the public’s tireless help and amazing financial donations. Thank you all for giving Robyn this chance. In a way, it’s a wonderful early birthday present for her and all of us.”
Robyn celebrates her 14th birthday on August 25.
In June, Bernadette made an emotional outpouring for the public’s financial help as her attempts to raise €326,000 for Robyn’s medical treatment were failing. The money had to be paid up-front to the Cancer Centre.
But not having enough money to pay for the treatment, following two good scans at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Michigan, where Robyn had been receiving treatment since 2015, meant that her health had begun to deteriorate.
Bernadette’s fundraising had stalled at €70,000 but following her appeal, Erin McGregor, sister of UFC king Conor, helped to start a floss dance challenge in a desperate bid to help save Robyn’s life.
Finally, two weeks ago the massive amount was reached. Since arriving in New York, Bernadette and Robyn have been staying in the Ronald McDonald house, a charity based organisation that provides accommodation. It is designed to provide a home away from home for families with seriously ill children who are receiving medical treatment.
Bernadette added: “The vaccine helps Robyn make antibodies that help fight back neuroblastoma. The treatment involves seven vaccines spread out over a year.
“She will receive three while we are here in the US. The rest are spread out over the rest of the year. We are hoping to leave to come home on the 23rd of this month, just in time for her birthday celebrations in Dublin.
We will have to return to New York for her next round of treatment five weeks after we get back home. It will be a constant travelling back and forth on flights, so that’s why we will need to keep fundraising, as the bank account is now completely empty.”
It was when the Dublin girl’s chances of survival dropped to five per cent, three years ago and was told by Irish doctors to bring her home to die, that her family decided to fundraise to take her to US.