A seven-year-old Ulster schoolgirl who this week lost her battle with cancer has been described as “a delight to know” and the owner of “an infectious smile”.
For more than a year Cariss Dempster battled neuroblastoma, a rare cancer annually affecting some 100 children in the UK. However, the Hillsborough girl passed away on Tuesday, just over a week after her seventh birthday.
Mourners will gather at Dromore’s Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church at noon on Thursday in support of Cariss’s parents, Noel and Elaine, her sister Korin, 10, and wider family circle.
On a fundraising Facebook site started by Korin, the family announced on Tuesday: “Our little princess gained her angel wings today. She will always live in our hearts forever. Xxxx.”
When contacted, a family member said everyone concerned was “just devastated” by their loss.
A pupil at Dromore Central Primary School and a member of First Dromore Girls’ Brigade, Cariss was just five years old when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Linda Allen, principal of Dromore Central, said staff and pupils were deeply saddened by her death. The little girl’s mother, Elaine, also works as a classroom assistant at the school.
Mrs Allen told the News Letter: “Cariss was a delight to know. She was always happy, bubbly and full of fun. She had an infectious smile and will be deeply deeply missed by us all.
“The school want to convey our very deepest sympathies to the entire family circle at this very difficult time.”
On Wednesday night supporters had logged some 400 tributes on the fundraising Facebook site set up by Korin to raise money for related charities.
Hundreds had turned out for a variety of fundraising events, with more still in the pipeline in recent weeks.
One supporter wrote on Facebook: “What a beautiful Angel heaven has gained – Cariss was always smiling and such a brave girl; what a cruel disease. Thinking of Elaine, Noel, Korin and the whole family circle at this terrible time.”
Another said there were “no human words to adequately express the sorrow we feel for you all”. She added: “Praying that the Lord Himself will hold you all in His arms and comfort you as only He is able. We are praying for you all and remain inspired by your courage over the last number of months.”
One supporter wrote: “Such sad news, no more pain for her, just for those left behind to mourn her. My thoughts are with her mum, dad and her big sister. May you all find strength and courage to carry on with beautiful memories of Cariss.”
Yet another said she was “so very sad to hear the news today that your precious daughter has lost her battle with cancer”. She added: “What a beautiful angel she now is and all suffering is gone. Thoughts and prayers are with you all. May God comfort and strengthen you in the days ahead. God bless you all.”
Cariss’ sister Korin had wanted to do something positive during the illness and enlisted her cousins, Claire and Hollie McDonald, to raise funds for cancer charities and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Her parents Noel and Elaine spent many nights by Cariss’s side at the hospital, where they said she received “the very best of care”.
Korin spearheaded plans for a sponsored run/walk in Hillsborough 12 months ago in which participants were asked to wear her sister’s favourite colour – red.
“Korin wanted to do something to help,” her father Noel told the Dromore Leader last year. “And she really got the ball rolling. Everyone is really weighing in behind to help, from the churches to the Girls’ Brigade – everyone. We are absolutely blown away with the response Korin has got.”
More than 400 people took part in the event, raising an impressive £5,000 for cancer charities on the day, and around £9,000 in total.
Some of the charities which the money was donated to were the Neuroblastoma Society, CLIC Sargent and the cancer unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Noel said everyone was “totally amazed” by the response to Korin’s efforts.
Children were giving up their pocket money, he said, while a single family donated £215 and one little girl returned a sponsor sheet with more than £600 on it.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” he said. “We never expected so many people, and they have raised so much.
“It’s very touching and it really lifts us to know that people care. Everyone we went to, to see if they could help, just said ‘There you are!’”
Taking centre stage on the day, Korin, said Noel, was thrilled with its success and she and her cousins were laying plans for more fundraising events.
“The work that Hollie and Claire and the whole family have done has been fantastic,” he said.
Cariss’ funeral service is at noon today at Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church, Dromore, Co Down. Donations in lieu of flowers will be divided between Cancer Fund for Children and Angel Wishes via Bobby Morrison funeral directors in Lisburn.