L-Istrina kicks off in less than two hours, and we had the opportunity to sit down with Mary Rose Farrugia, Samuel’s mother who has been on the receiving end of the Maltese generosity which manifests itself every year during l-Istrina.
When Samuel was less than 2 years old, he was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma (cancer in both eyes). “At first we noticed that he had squint and white eye instead of the red eyes when taking a photo. Soon we went to London where he was operated on and his right eye removed. At the age of 5, he was able to see with the remaining vision. However, no sooner he relapsed and had to undergo several treatments – chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” Mary Rose told Bay.
“We also went to Switzerland with the aim to take the final chance of salvaging his sight. We used to travel back and forth every month for nearly three years. However, things did not work as planned. He had a total retinal detachment and finally, the consultants decided to remove the other eye. We flew again to UK. I was shattered because I knew that this is going to be the last time that he will see me again. But it had to be done,” she said, adding that Samuel is now totally blind, but happy!
Naturally for any parent, when you are told that you have to go abroad for treatment, the initial reaction of anyone would practically be the same. For Mary Rose, the first reaction was complete numbness.
“I couldn’t understand why this is happening to me, to my son. I was afraid, that I was not able to handle it all by myself. It was not easy, being alone with a two-year-old kid, trying to make ends meet. I still do remember the doctor telling me that we had to go abroad. I felt the room that we were in was squashing me and I was feeling helpless and unable to protect my son from all the pain and ill-health. This feeling was even worse when he relapsed. I thought that the worst had been over but in actuality, the worst was yet to come. Being me and Samuel alone but together wasn’t a stroll in the park. It was difficult for me to try and find the moment to vent and cry without Samuel noticing me. I had to show him that I was strong and there for him.
“When we were in London, staying with the Sisters, we had a lot of support both financially and emotionally from the Sisters, our family, friends and the MCCF. However, when we were attending the hospitals in Switzerland, things were different. Although I had the support from the MCCF, I still was cautious not to overspend.
“Life in Switzerland was very expensive and I used to sacrifice a lot of things just to see Samuel happy. It was another heartache when he used to ask for a toy but I had to decline because I simply couldn’t afford to spend too much money on ‘luxuries/ trivial things’. Whilst in Switzerland, thanks to the MCCF we could go for treatment and afford the basic needs.
Mary Rose used to donate regularly to the various telethons organised, even during L-Istrina, never thinking for one minute that the MCCF would be so vital for both her and Samuel.
“MCCF was of great financial help when going abroad. It also helped us by allocating funds for the procurement of specialised equipment. In addition and most important of all, provided the emotional support that was needed at the time,” Mary Rose told Bay.
“I hate to say that people should “donate because someday it can be you or your family who can benefit” because I feel that it is unfair, as if blackmailing the person. I encourage people to donate even the slightest amount because this will give a spark of hope to someone in need. No person should suffer and I am sure that with the little help from everyone, many sufferings can be alleviated,” she concluded.
L-Istrina kicks off at midday on all local TV stations!