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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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
More than 70 million displaced worldwide, says UNHCR
The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million globally last year – the highest number in the UN refugee agency’s almost 70 years.
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The almost 70.8 million people forcibly displaced is up 2.3 million on the previous year, according to the agency’s annual Global Trends report.
This is also double the level recorded 20 years ago.
The number averaged out to 37,000 new displacements every day.
“What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees.
The actual figure is likely to be higher as the Venezuela crisis is only partly reflected, the report states.
Around four million Venezuelans have fled their country, according to some figures from countries taking them in, making it one of the world’s biggest recent displacement crises.
The report identifies three main groups.
Firstly, there are refugees, or people forced to leave their country because of conflict, war or persecution. In 2018, the number of refugees reached 25.9 million worldwide, 500,000 more than in 2017. Included in this total are 5.5 million Palestine refugees.
The second group is 3.5 million asylum seekers. These are people outside their country of birth who are under international protection, but are yet to be granted refugee status.
Thirdly, there are internally displaced persons, or IDPs. These people are displaced within their country and amount to 41.3 million globally.
More than two thirds of all refugees worldwide came from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.
Syria had a considerably higher number than any other country with 6.7 million, followed by Afghanistan with 2.7 million.
Only 92,400 refugees were resettled in 2018, fewer than 7% of those awaiting resettlement.
The global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 43.3 million in 2009. Most of this increase was between 2012 and 2015 as a result of the Syrian conflict.
However, other conflicts have cropped up and continued across the globe, for example, in Iraq and Yemen in the Middle East, as well as parts of sub-Saharan Africa such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
The massive flow of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh at the end of 2017 after they were driven out of Myanmar’s Rakhine state during military crackdowns was another major crisis.
At more than 1.5 million, Ethiopians were the largest newly displaced population in 2018, 98% of them internally, more than doubling the previous number.
These were mainly attributed to inter-communal violence throughout 2018, with communities living along disputed boundaries most affected.
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