A local mum has told of how her family’s world was turned upside down when her young baby was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer.
Sarah Thompson, from Randalstown, wants to raise awareness of the support her family received from the Cancer Fund for Children, after her son Nathanael was diagnosed with cancer in December 2016 at just nine months old.
The Thompson family, including mum Sarah, dad Paul, Nathanael (now one) and their three-year-old son Alfie were able to benefit from the charity’s range of support, including the support of a dedicated Cancer Fund for Children Specialist, financial grants and free short breaks at the charity’s therapeutic short break centre, Daisy Lodge and self-catering cottages in Coleraine.
Sarah has praised the support from the charity and is using World Cancer Day to raise awareness of the services it can provide.
“When Nathanael was first diagnosed with kidney cancer it was a massive shock, we had no idea that something like this could come knocking on our door let alone be invading Nathanael’s body. We hadn’t realised that cancer didn’t discriminate against anyone, it didn’t even care that he was only a baby,” Sarah said.
She added: “We felt helpless and that there was nothing we could do to help him, cancer had taken control of our lives. We spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying and trying to come to terms with things, I only thought I knew what crying was but we all had a gripping pain in our stomachs that we had never felt and the tears flowed frequently.
“Nathanael on the other hand was blissfully unaware of what he was about to go through, he was in our eyes still our beautiful happy little baby.
“Words like cancer, tumours, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were things we thought happened to other people yet here we were about to embark on a year long intense journey where cancer would become part of our normal lives.
“The treatment was tough on him. Our baby changed drastically, even his complexion, he was pale and had started to lose a lot of his hair gaining the ‘chemotherapy’ look.
“After his initial four weeks of chemotherapy he then underwent surgery to remove his tumour, left kidney and surrounding lymph nodes. Surgery lasted nearly six hours, it was an agonising wait but thankfully apart from a leakage it went to plan.”
Nathanael had to then ensure 20 sessions of radiotherapy, requiring a general anaesthetic each time.
“It was a horrible time for the whole family, Nathanael had to be fasted each morning, in the beginning he was angry with us and confused. Why was mummy and daddy suddenly not feeding him?” Sarah said.
She added: “Meals were a struggle, what we could get him to eat never stayed down for long but all in all he coped well, arriving each day with a smile on his face and wakening up from his anaesthetic eager for cuddles.
“He was showing how strong and resilient he could be again.”
It was during this difficult and stressful time of hospital visits, treatment and isolation that the family found out about the support of Cancer Fund for Children.
Sarah added: “Cancer changed our family drastically, we went from being a normal family enjoying our children and working hard, to a family who felt like we were fighting each day for survival.
“It was a major adjustment financially and thankfully Cancer Fund for Children were able to step in and provide us with grants for home heating and travel expenses.
“We spent a lot of time travelling to and from hospital - some weeks we made the journey every day - so this made a massive difference.”
She added: “Caitriona, our Cancer Fund for Children Specialist was also amazing support during this time. When Alfie was struggling to understand why Nathanael was so sick she brought us literature aimed specifically at his age group which helped us to explain treatment gently and carefully at his level.
“She also helped arrange for Cahoots, a local children’s theatre company, to pay a special visit to our house before Christmas. It was truly magical, a Christmas show in our living room for our boys, I don’t think we have all smiled and laughed as much in a very long time.
“It was the first time I had ever seen both my boys participating and joining in on some fun, it was truly a beautiful moment and really helped us get through our last treatment.
“Caitriona also helped arrange for us to stay at Daisy Lodge as a family. It was the breather that we needed from hospital life and the jail that had become our own home.
“Not once did anyone even mention our horrible journey and what brought us there, instead the staff played games with our boys and made them feel special by giving them all the time and attention they could wish for.”
In January 2018, the Thompson family finally got the news were waiting for - Nathanael is finally cancer free.
“All his scans show no evidence of disease and it’s the result we have been fighting for all year,” Sarah said.
She added: “We are beyond delighted and proud. He has been nothing short of amazing, since finishing treatment he has learnt to walk unaided, has started simple speech and best of all he has started to play.
“His new found energy has been contagious to us all, there is quite literally no stopping him now.”
The family are now encouraging others to do what they can to support the charity, so that families like them don’t have to face cancer alone.
They’re calling on local people to get involved in the charity’s Winter Woolly Walk event this month to raise money to support children with cancer in Northern Ireland.
There are eight family-friendly walks taking place throughout the country including Belfast, Cookstown, Antrim, Portstewart, Derry/Londonderry, Enniskillen, Newcastle and Limavady.
Sarah added: “The work they do is amazing, stepping out and fundraising for Cancer Fund for Children will help so many families like ours, it can be so much fun and it feels good to know you are giving back.
“All you have to do is look at our little boy’s happy face when getting a break from hospital life at Daisy Lodge to know that fundraising is worthwhile and the money is going to the right place in Northern Ireland helping families like ours.”
To make a difference to families like the Thompson’s this World Cancer Day and to find out more about how Cancer Fund for Children support children with cancer, go to www.cancerfundforchildren.com