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 the aggressive cancer, neuroblastoma, for 10 years but starts treatment with the new vaccine today.
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 firstly 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.
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, which is charity based organisation which 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.
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.