Carer Tracey Sloan sacrificed her own health for her disabled son
A mother from Northern Ireland who has cared for her severely disabled son for almost 20 years has joined calls for carers to be given more support.
Tracey Sloan has been describing how she put her own health at risk because of the strain of looking after her son Philip who has cerebral palsy.
She postponed a cancer check-up because there was no-one to look after him, but was later diagnosed with the disease.
Her call comes as a survey found carers are sacrificing their own health.Difficult
The study, carried out to mark Carers Week, suggested that 40% of people who look after family members or close friends put off their own medical treatment in order to meet the needs of those for whom they care.
For the past 19 years, Ms Sloan's daily routine has been dictated by the demanding medical needs of her son, who suffered a seizure at birth.
End Quote Tracey Sloan Mother and carer
Your mental health drags you down. It's hard to keep going all the time.”
Three months later Philip was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and was not expected to live beyond the age of three.
However, the teenager has defied the odds and will celebrate his 20th birthday later this summer.
His mother Tracey said that other people do not realise how difficult life can be for parents who care for a severely disabled child.
"We would be up in the morning about half past five, setting up medication, ready to start at six o'clock.
"Philip is fed medication into his bowel, which only goes in a one millilitre a minute, so we have to spend about an hour or an hour and a half getting medication into him first thing," she explained.
This daily routine must take place before she can wash, dress and feed Philip, and take him to school in a buggy.
The cycle starts again as soon as Philip comes home from school until he goes to bed at around 01:00 BST.
Last January, Tracey was called for a routine smear test but she postponed her appointment several times because Philip was suffering from a series of chest infections.
He was not able to go to school and often needed round-the-clock care at home.
She eventually went for the test in April, and some weeks later was diagnosed with cancer.Priority
Tracey underwent a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy but throughout her cancer treatment she still continued to care for Philip.
"Every day Philip always comes first, and he's my main priority," she said.
"I know I left my own health this time, but my last smear test a couple of years ago was fine and I thought it would be alright for a couple of months, it'll be no problem, we'll just wait and we'll go sometime".
Tracey agreed that other people do not often appreciate the strains placed on carers and parents of disabled children.
"Its not just a case of the physical things you have to do, your mental health suffers very badly I think. Each time a child goes into hospital, the fear is there that - is this his last time coming in?"
She added: "Your mental health drags you down. It's hard to keep going all the time."Support
The eight charities which support Carers Week said the new research published on Monday is "further evidence of a growing care crisis".
The survey, which sought the views of 3,400 carers in the UK, showed that caring had a negative impact on 83% of carers' physical health, while 87% said their mental health had been adversely affected.
More than one in three (36%) has sustained a physical injury, such as back pain, through their caring responsibilities.
The charities have called for "better financial and practical support for the 6.4m unpaid carers in the UK, so they can look after their health and well-being".