By Sarah Canty
A YOUNG Caheragh girl who was diagnosed with cancer last year was given the surprise of a lifetime when the Rose of Tralee popped into her school to see her this week.
Twelve-year-old Aoife Buckley wrote the Rose a letter after learning that both had been diagnosed with the same form of cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Elysha Brennan, the first Irish-born Rose to win in seven years, was diagnosed just weeks before sitting her Leaving Cert. She spoke openly during the competition about getting through her exams, her cancer treatment, and wishing to become a paediatric oncologist. She is in remission now and has taken a year off from medical school to commit to her Rose responsibilities and adventures.
Aoife and her mum Margaret watched the Rose of Tralee together last August. Aoife herself had been given the all-clear only a few weeks earlier and was clearly moved by Elysha’s story. The young girl went to her room after the programme, only to emerge some time later with a letter in hand to show Margaret. ‘She just wrote things, like how it was so good to see Elysha looking so well,’ explained her proud mum.
They posted the letter to the Rose of Tralee offices thinking nothing would most likely come of it. However, Elysha responded with a lovely letter and the two have enjoyed correspondence back and forth since.
Last week the Rose of Tralee office phoned Margaret to say that Elysha would like to visit Aoife and her classmates at St Joseph’s National School in Dromore.
‘It was so hard to keep the secret,’ says Margaret. ‘I was getting the lunches together and pretending everything was normal all morning.’
Her efforts worked because Aoife was indeed taken by surprise when the Rose of Tralee walked through her classroom door.
Elysha, who was accompanied by her own mother, was a charming guest who engaged well with the children and made sure to spend some one-on-one time with Aoife. She even let Aoife try on her crown and she sang the Rose of Tralee to her in front of the whole class.
This visit meant so much to Aoife, her family, and her friends. No matter what is left under the Christmas tree this year, the memory of this gift is sure to last a lifetime.