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Big brother becomes dad to eight-year-old sister after mum’s death – only for her to be diagnosed with brain cancer.

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A selfless big brother became dad to his younger sister after their mum’s sudden death – only for her to be diagnosed with brain cancer.

Steven Connor, 27, is now desperately trying to save eight-year-old Ianessa’s life after he was told the little “princess” was battling the disease .

The youngster’s heartbreaking diagnosis came just weeks ago – months after her and Steven’s mum, Christine, died suddenly in her sleep in May.

The siblings, from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, had also suffered an earlier tragedy when their grandmother passed away last year.

Now, they are facing Ianessa’s cancer diagnosis – which her brother says is “by far the most scary thing I’ve ever faced” reports.

The brave little girl was diagnosed with brain cancer just weeks ago

“When I told her she had cancer, she said that she’d have to go and keep Nanny and Mum company now,” recalled Steven, from Carrickfergus.

“It was heartbreaking… I was stunned.”

When the siblings’ mum and gran Ann died unexpectedly, just months apart, Steven knew he had to look after his younger sister.

He understood he would face tough times filled with grief, tears and difficult questions from Ianessa. But he never expected to be raising funds to get her to an American hospital for treatment for a brain tumour.

However between everyday school and play routines, hospital visits and scans, that is exactly what the big brother is doing now.

Steven, who lives in Edenvale, had previously depended on his mum and gran for unwavering support – but had to “step up” following their deaths,

“Well, I’ve had to step up,” he said.

“Ianessa and I have another sister, Shannon, who is 19 and who also needs support, and I help with my aunt, who is disabled.

“I just never expected to have a little girl of eight years old relying on me to get her life saving surgery in the USA.

“But it’s here and it’s happening and the upbringing my nanny and mum gave me have actually prepared me for this – prepared me to stand up and do what’s needed when it’s needed.

The siblings' mum, Christine, was aged just 45 when she passed away in her sleep

And along with my long-term partner, Ben McCann, and the support of friends and neighbours, we will see this through.”

Steven and Ianessa’s mum was just aged 45 when she died in her sleep. It is believed she had suffered from sleep apnoea that had gone untreated.

The siblings’ grandmother had passed away aged 66 from blood poisoning eight months earlier following a recent cancer diagnosis.

Now, the family’s focus is on Ianessa and her battle to beat her tumour.

Steven said: “I was stunned after my nanny died, and devastated and shocked after mum died but this is by far the most scary thing I’ve ever faced.

“We are really lucky that we have been given 85% funding by the NHS for Ianessa’s treatment but we have to pay for our travel and living expenses while we are over there. And we will be there for at least eight weeks.”

He added: “When I think about it I fill with panic and then I realise I just better get on with it.

“Ianessa is only a little girl and she has lost so much with the deaths of Nanny and Mum and she is relying on me to make this illness right.”

The brother recalled telling his little sister that their gran had died.

“I had to explain to her that Nanny had died and she’d had cancer and God had wanted her to come and live with him,” he said.

“A few short months later I had to explain that God had wanted Mum to come and keep Nanny company and she was gone too.

Ianessa is pictured with her brother Steven, his long-term partner Ben McCann, their aunt Denise and their sister Shannon

We managed although the shock was horrendous but then two weeks ago I was told Ianessa had a brain cancer and I decided that I needed to be 100% honest with her.”

Steven explained how his little sister told him she would have to go and keep their mum and gran “company” after he broke the news to her.

“I explained that we wanted her to stay with us so we would try to get rid of the cancer and we could all go and see Nanny and Mum some time when we were much older,” he said.

“She was OK with that and has been so trusting and accepting of everything we are doing in the run up to this treatment in America.”

However, Steven said he is struggling to remain calm about getting enough funds put together to ensure the trip can go ahead.

He said: “I’m not working and I’ve been doing everything to save a few pounds anywhere I can. I had been a smoker and I just stopped right away.

I’d do anything I could to help Ianessa.

“I have never asked anyone for anything apart from support and care from family and friends and it feels very alien to be asking complete strangers to donate money to our fund.

“But I have to face the fact that we need help and I’m man enough to ask for it for Ianessa.”

In desperation, the brother-turned-dad is asking for support to ensure Ianessa gets the treatment she needs.

Steven and Ianessa's beloved nanny, Ann, passed away aged 66 from blood poisoning last year

He has set up a page in her name.

He said: “Ianessa has always been a brilliant little sister, a little old soul in a tiny body, ready smile and a loving heart. I’m proud to call her my sister and now I’m proud to be her dad. I have had to step up and act as her dad.

“The focus has moved from getting us settled with our middle sister Shannon in our family home, to full panic mode where we are expecting to fly to Florida to get pioneering treatment to try to get rid of Ianessa’s brain tumour.

“I keep hoping the whole situation is just a big nightmare and I’m going to wake up in a moment. But it’s true, it’s real and it’s scaring me big time but I have to be brave for this wonderful little girl.

“And she is leading the way, being brave and her normal wee self.”

Ianessa had surgery to remove part of a nonmalignant tumour last October.

However, a recent scan to check it had not grown back revealed a cancerous tumour in her brain.

Steven said: “Initially she was diagnosed with Craniopharyngioma, a benign brain tumour and we were very relieved to hear it was benign but she was suffering multiple seizures.

“At just seven years old she had a lot too take in. She was no longer able to do the normal things a child her age could do.

“But about a month after her official diagnosis she was back home and things where looking good – surgery had been a success and about 90% of the tumour had been removed.”

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Stay Healthy & Protect Yourself from Cancer

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Health they say is wealth and there are certain habits that can guarantee great health even as you progress in years.
Eight healthy behaviors can go a long way toward improving your health and lowering your risk of many cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. And they’re not as complicated as you might think.
So take control of your health, and encourage your family to do the same. Choose one or two of the behaviors below to start with. Once you’ve got those down, move on to the others.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping your weight in check is often easier said than done, but a few simple tips can help. First off, if you’re overweight, focus initially on not gaining any more weight. This by itself can improve your health. Then, when you’re ready, try to take off some extra pounds for an even greater health boost. To see where you fall on the weight range, click here.
Tips
  • Integrate physical activity and movement into your life.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Choose smaller portions and eat more slowly.
For Parents and Grandparents 
  • Limit children’s TV and computer time.
  • Encourage healthy snacking on fruits and vegetables.
  • Encourage activity during free time.
2. Exercise Regularly
Few things are as good for you as regular physical activity. While it can be hard to find the time, it’s important to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day. More is even better, but any amount is better than none.
Tips 
  • Choose activities you enjoy. Many things count as exercise, including walking, gardening and dancing.
  • Make exercise a habit by setting aside the same time for it each day. Try going to the gym at lunchtime or taking a walk regularly after dinner.
  • Stay motivated by exercising with someone.
For Parents and Grandparents 
  • Play active games with your kids regularly and go on family walks and bike rides when the weather allows.
  • Encourage children to play outside (when it’s safe) and to take part in organized activities, including soccer, gymnastics and dancing.
  • Walk with your kids to school in the morning. It’s great exercise for everyone.
3. Don’t Smoke
You’ve heard it before: If you smoke, quitting is absolutely the best thing you can do for your health. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also far from impossible. More than 1,000 Americans stop for good every day.
Tips 
  • Keep trying! It often takes six or seven tries before you quit for good.
  • Talk to a health-care provider for help.
  • Join a quit-smoking program. Your workplace or health plan may offer one.
For Parents and Grandparents
  • Try to quit as soon as possible. If you smoke, your children will be more likely to smoke.
  • Don’t smoke in the house or car. If kids breathe in your smoke, they may have a higher risk of breathing problems and lung cancer.
  • When appropriate, talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco. A health-care professional or school counselor can help.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Despite confusing news reports, the basics of healthy eating are actually quite straightforward. You should focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and keep red meat to a minimum. It’s also important to cut back on bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and choose healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) more often. Taking a multivitamin with folate every day is a great nutrition insurance policy.
Tips
  • Make fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. Put fruit on your cereal. Eat vegetables as a snack.
  • Choose chicken, fish or beans instead of red meat.
  • Choose whole-grain cereal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread over their more refined counterparts.
  • Choose dishes made with olive or canola oil, which are high in healthy fats.
  • Cut back on fast food and store-bought snacks (like cookies), which are high in bad fats.
  • Buy a 100 percent RDA multivitamin that contains folate.
5. Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation, If at All
Moderate drinking is good for the heart, as many people already know, but it can also increase the risk of cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t feel that you need to start. If you already drink moderately (less than one drink a day for women, less than two drinks a day for men), there’s probably no reason to stop. People who drink more, though, should cut back.
Tips
  • Choose nonalcoholic beverages at meals and parties.
  • Avoid occasions centered around alcohol.
  • Talk to a health-care professional if you feel you have a problem with alcohol.
For Parents and Grandparents
  • Avoid making alcohol an essential part of family gatherings.
  • When appropriate, discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse with children. A health-care professional or school counselor can help.
6. Protect Yourself from the Sun
While the warm sun is certainly inviting, too much exposure to it can lead to skin cancer, including serious melanoma. Skin damage starts early in childhood, so it’s especially important to protect children.
Tips
  • Steer clear of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (peak burning hours). It’s the best way to protect yourself.
  • Wear hats, long-sleeve shirts and sunscreens with SPF15 or higher.
  • Don’t use sun lamps or tanning booths. Try self-tanning creams instead.
For Parents and Grandparents 
  • Buy tinted sunscreen so you can see if you’ve missed any spots on a fidgety child.
  • Set a good example for children by also protecting yourself with clothing, shade and sunscreen.
7. Protect Yourself From Sexually Transmitted Infections
Among other problems, sexually transmitted infections – like human papillomavirus (HPV) – are linked to a number of different cancers. Protecting yourself from these infections can lower your risk.
Tips
  • Aside from not having sex, the best protection is to be in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone who does not have a sexually transmitted infection.
  • For all other situations, be sure to always use a condom and follow other safe-sex practices.
  • Never rely on your partner to have a condom. Always be prepared.
For Parents and Grandparents
  • When appropriate, discuss with children the importance of abstinence and safe sex. A health-care professional or school counselor can help.
  • Vaccinate girls and young women as well as boys and young men against HPV. Talk to a health professional for more information.
8. Get Screening Tests
There are a number of important screening tests that can help protect against cancer. Some of these tests find cancer early when they are most treatable, while others can actually help keep cancer from developing in the first place. For colorectal cancer alone, regular screening could save over 30,000 lives each year. That’s three times the number of people killed by drunk drivers in the United States in all of 2011. Talk to a health care professional about which tests you should have and when.
Cancers that should be tested for regularly:
  • Colon and rectal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Lung cancer (in current or past heavy smokers)

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Health & Lifestyle

Sickle cell may get solution soon – scientists.

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Scientists in the U.S. have unveiled results of a small clinical trial that could mean an effective “cure” for sickle cell anemia, the painful and debilitating disease that inflicts many millions of people across the globe, mostly of African heritage and including some 100,000 African Americans in the U.S.



Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say they have used gene therapy techniques to add a “corrected” gene for healthy red blood cells into the bodies of nine test patients, replacing their diseased red blood cells caused by sickle cell anemia and effectively ridding them of signs of the disease.

NIH Director Francis Collins described the trial results as seemingly “spectacular”.

IMG-20180912-WA0030

“When you look at their blood counts and their blood smears, it looks like they don’t have it anymore,” Collins said on Monday (March 11) from his office at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes protein crystals to form inside red blood cells, changing their shape from a flat disk into a crescent or sickle shape that then clogs up the small blood vessels and results in terrible episodes of pain and organ damage.

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But they believe the basic premise of introducing a corrected gene into the body holds promise for Africa provided a simpler, cheaper and less toxic delivery system than bone marrow transplant and the accompanying chemotherapy can be found.

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