Gadgets galore and a chocolate dog

20th October 2006 at 01:00
Nicole Dryburgh is so fond of her weekend breaks at Demelza House, she turned her hand to interior design to create a bolthole for teenagers I was diagnosed with cancer in August 2000, at the age of 11. I had an operation which removed most of the tumour and had eight weeks of daily radiotherapy. In April 2002, I started getting pain in my lower back. I had various tests and then an operation. This showed something called an AVM, a ball of engorged blood vessels. It was too dangerous to touch, so it was left.

In December 2002, I collapsed and had a brain haemorrhage. I spent three months in hospital and in that time I had a stroke, several fits, went into a coma and woke up blind. A biopsy showed a tumour under the AVM, which was what caused the haemorrhage.

I had nine months of chemotherapy and lost all my hair. When it started growing back, a hairdresser at Demelza House gave me my first haircut in 18 months.

Demelza House has eight bedrooms downstairs where the children stay.

Upstairs are the parents' bedrooms; some of them overlook the big garden, which has goats and sheep. The garden has a sensory and a memorial area where ornaments and plants are left by family and friends of those who have passed away.

Demelza House is really big. It has a jacuzzi room, an art room, a music room and a sensory room. There's a warm water bed in the sensory room, coloured fairy lights, bubble tubes, a beanbag, and a CD player. You can play calming music and relax or play loud music and let your frustration out, as the walls are padded. Two of the children's bedrooms have an adjoining door. I normally stay in one of these rooms and my friend has the other. Each bedroom has wooden furniture, a TV, a sink, an electric bed, and patio doors to the garden. There are carpets throughout the house and even a red velvet throne.

Over the past 18 months I, with three other teenagers, have helped to design an adolescent room called TIZ, short for The Inclusion Zone. There's always been lots of things for young children to do at Demelza, but not that much for teenagers. The new room is upstairs and there is a lift to get to it. There's a blue carpet, blue leather chairs and a sofa with massaging footrests; also, a plasma screen, DVD players, CD player, games consoles and a kitchen with all the latest gadgets, including an adjustable sink that can be moved to get wheelchairs under it. On the wall is a giant piece of wood with four jigsaw shapes drawn on it. The four of us have put our favourite photos and things we like on our own piece of the jigsaw.

Other teenagers who use the room in the future will design their own jigsaw piece which will be slotted next to them.

In December 2005, the four of us won a Philip Lawrence award for outstanding community achievement. We travelled to London for the ceremony and were presented with a trophy and a cheque for pound;1,000 to go towards the project.

Demelza House has special weekends, such as the ones for teenagers. I have been to two girlie weekends and they are great. On the first one we got pampered and a photographer took our photos. On my next weekend we were taken in a stretch limo to see The Lion King in London.

I've left the best thing about Demelza until last.. the chocolate Labrador called Coco. I always ask where she is as soon as I arrive. I think she recognizes me now. She is a substitute for my dogs when I stay there.

It took me a while to get used to Demelza. I was nervous about staying away from Mum, but all the carers are so nice and they make you feel relaxed. I don't go for respite, it's more of a social thing. I go three or four times a year and stay for the weekend. It's a brilliant place.

Nicole Dryburgh started a column in The TES's Friday magazine a year ago.

She is now 17 and starting another course of chemotherapy as both her tumours have returned. Read her diary, accounts of her visits to Demelza, and news of her fundraising for the hospice and other charities at www.c-h-o-c.org.uk

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