WATCH: Co Down dad recalls teenage daughter's final moments just one week after blood cancer diagnosis


For Richard Buchanan, this Tuesday marks the day his daughter, Catherine, would have turned 27. But her life was tragically cut short after she was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Ten years ago, just as Catherine from Co Down was preparing to apply for university in the hopes of becoming a scientist, she became very ill. Shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer and just a week later, with her parents by her side, Catherine passed away in intensive care.

For Richard and the family, Catherine's diagnosis came out of nowhere as the Strathearn School student had been in perfect health, loved riding and was focussed on her future.

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Tuesday is also World Blood Cancer Day and a decade later, now serving as Chairperson of local charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI (LLNI ), Richard is one of a number of people who have opened their hearts to share a personal letter to a lost loved one.

Reading from his diary written at the time of his daughter's passing., Richard gives a very honest and open account of the loss of a loved one.

He said: "We got to the hospital feeling awful. Had to wait a long half hour to get to see dear Catherine. She didn't look any different but was off the dialysis machine and the respirator was doing all the work on breathing.

"Before we saw her we'd had yet another chat with the doctor and a nurse. In summary he said Catherine had another clot on the brain and this could not be dealt with because of the previous surgery. But anyway this had caused massive brain damage overnight and there was no recovery from this. She could not breathe alone and there was no option but to let nature take its course and let her pass away in peace."

Catherine Buchanan, who passed away at the age of 17 from a rare form of blood cancer.
Catherine Buchanan, who passed away at the age of 17 from a rare form of blood cancer. -Credit:Submitted

He added: "She was in no pain but was heavily sedated and was probably not aware of surroundings. She would not last the day. We were left alone to be with her. She looked so beautiful. I kissed her forehead and hand and held her hand, stroking her arm.

"Julie, my wife, was on the other side. She read Saddle Club to her, one of her favourite books, and we chatted for quite a while, going over happy memories of our lives together.

"We hoped she at least was aware of us, but maybe she wasn't. It was the immensely sad time, but felt like a very peaceful goodbye. I saw her blood pressure fall, then her heartbeat fell, and then she died very peacefully, with the colour leaving her lips and face.

"We kissed her, cried, and said goodbye to our beautiful, clever, talented, wonderful child and that was it. A piece of hearts was gone."

Richard has joined the call for those who have been diagnosed with leukaemia, lymphoma, lyeloma or any other form of blood cancer and their loved ones to share their experiences online as part of an ongoing programme of LLNI 60th anniversary activities and to mark World Blood Cancer Day.

“Sharing our story with others has been a great help for dealing with the loss our family has felt. After Catherine passed away, the community which rallied round us was invaluable. Whether it is sharing some of the details around their own personal diagnosis, or remembering someone they’ve lost, we’re calling on the Northern Ireland public to submit a photo and a short submission,” said Richard.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI Chairperson Richard Buchanan
Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI Chairperson Richard Buchanan -Credit:Submitted

The photos and extended captions gathered will form part of a special online canvas where members of the public can discover stories of people affected by blood cancer across the region. The initiative is part of a wider programme of activities to mark the 60th year of the charity and raise funds for the fight against blood cancer.

“This year LLNI turns 60,” continued Richard, “and we want to bring people together and bolster our community of those affected by these evil diseases. More than anything we want to show that, with the right support, we can save lives and improve outcomes for people living with blood cancer in Northern Ireland through scientific research.

“Major advances in medicine are being made all the time and the work LLNI has funded throughout its 60-year history has made a significant contribution to the improving picture for those who are diagnosed with blood cancer.

“In Northern Ireland, three people are diagnosed with blood cancer every day. I’m proud to say that in the Patrick G Johnston Cancer Centre at Queen’s University we have a world-class facility here in Northern Ireland, which is part of a network of research institutions spread across the globe dedicated to the fight against blood cancer.

“But this facility needs funding to be able to continue the vital research the scientists there are performing. I urge members of the public to dig deep and help us raise funds so that more families don’t have to go through the experiences which mine has faced.”

On 1st September, LLNI will kick off a series of fundraising activities with a reflective walk at Hillsborough Forest Park. The programme will culminate in the charity hosting a Black Tie & Diamonds Gala Ball at Titanic Belfast, where the winner of an ongoing raffle for a diamond pendant necklace will be selected at random.

Members of the public can share their story, make a donation or buy raffle tickets for the diamond necklace raffle on the Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI website, llni.co.uk.

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