Normal Again: After winning a battle with leukemia, a Tour de Rock junior team member gets her childhood back

Tour de Rock, Sooke, leukemia, Daisy Irwin

Six-year-old Daisy Irwin

Six-year-old Daisy Irwin

For the most part, Daisy Irwin is a typical six-year-old. The Sooke youngster watches Scooby-Doo, takes swimming lessons, plays with Lego and adores Justin Bieber.

In her bedroom, she’s got a Bieber CD on a loop on her boom box. She’s listened to the album so much, it’s started to skip, but that doesn’t stop her from dancing around the room and singing along.

“I want to be a rock star.”

For Daisy’s parents, Patrick and Emma Irwin, that kind of normalcy is critical.

“She fought to be a regular kid, and that’s how we treat her,” said Emma.

Daisy was just 10 weeks old when she was diagnosed with not one, but two types of leukemia. The combination is rare and required a unique treatment plan which included three rounds of high-dose chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

The transplant led to an acute bout with an ailment known as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which caused Daisy’s immune system to essentially shut down.

The survival rate for infant leukemia, particularly in children less than three months old, is about 20 per cent. But after eight months in the B.C. Children’s Hospital, including a month on a ventilator, Daisy was finally cleared to go home.

“There were so many horrifying times, and it was really day-to-day, and it was a long series of miracles that contributed to her being here now,” said Emma.

Daisy has now reached a point where she only has to undergo annual checkups — “that stunned her doctors,” said Emma — to make sure her cancer hasn’t returned.

“To this day, she’s doing exceptionally well, but probably not a day goes by that you don’t think about it, because it will always be there,” said Patrick.

It wasn’t long after coming home that the Irwins became involved with the Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock. The 2011 ride marks Daisy’s fifth time as a member of the Tour’s junior team, which pairs childhood cancer patients — and sometimes their siblings —  with one or more Tour riders.

Daisy is one of 16 members of this year’s team. Three riders — Cpl. Manon Chouinard of the Victoria RCMP, Cpl. Mary Brigham, a member of the Military Police Unit at CFB Esquimalt, and CTV’s Louise Hartland — have been matched up with her.

Daisy has already been hard at work helping Chouinard with her fundraising efforts. In late August she and her eight-year-old sister Molly, who was once an honourary team member herself, spent the weekend in Sayward at a golf tournament and fishing derby that Chouinard had organized.

Several other events are planned for the weeks leading up to the Tour, including a Flip-Flop Hop and a lemonade stand, but perhaps the highlight of it all will be when Daisy gets to help shave her sister’s head as part of what Emma calls “The Balding of Sooke.”

The Irwins, who have a third daughter in ten-month-old Violet, are more than happy to remain involved with the Tour, as well as Camp Goodtimes, which is partially funded by the annual ride.

“She has a fantastic place where she can go in the summer,” Emma said. “There’s things that they can offer her that we never can, and we’re really happy to have that.”

Daisy’s now getting to the age where she is beginning to understand her illness.

Emma and Patrick know she will have more questions as she gets older, but as always, they will continue to raise her the same way they do her sisters.

“That’s what you fight for, is normality.”

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