My young daughter had been complaining of a pain in her tummy for a year and a half. Sometimes spiking temperatures rendered her delirious while leg pain and numbness totally incapacitated her. But time and time again she was sent home from the GP’s office with constipation or a virus.
As a mother, I suspected there was something more sinister going on but mother’s intuition doesn’t seem to be recognised by the medical profession.
Finally, the child presented to the GP so ill – just like I had explained tens of times before – but it had to be seen to be believed, so she was referred to the A&E department.
Symptoms and test results baffled the medics so we were referred to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin. After being in there for one day, and now in the hands of the oncology team, I was dealt the most gut wrenching blow no heavy weight champion could ever conceive of, which floored me. Three years later, I am still picking myself up.
We were stopped dead in our tracks. Life with my little girl, who had just started senior infants, had now done a U-turn, never, ever to be the same again.
Reading down through the lists of possible side effects like hearing loss, heart muscle damage, infertility, secondary cancers, I felt I had no choice but to give consent to have my baby pumped full of toxic agents in the form of chemotherapy, if there was to be chance of killing the cancer and saving her life, albeit for a short while. These chemicals have been used for decades on children with cancer while the adult equivalents progress with modern pharmaceutical research and development. No child left behind, “they” say when looking for votes, except the ones who get cancer.
As cancer parents meet and speak in St John’s Ward, Crumlin, one thing which bewilders all of us is why? Why did my child get cancer? I breast fed her; she eats a good diet and takes vitamins and supplements. Was it something I did?
All chemotherapy administration for paediatric oncology is in Crumlin hospital so, depending on the child’s protocol; it’s five days as an outpatient, 16 days at home and so on.
One day a lady came to my door and introduced herself as Jennifer Carpenter from the children’s cancer charity, Hand In Hand. I remembered being informed about them by a nurse in the hospital who offered to call them on my behalf, as I hadn’t the wherewithal to go looking for help. Jennifer came in and offered my family emotional support, domestic cleaning, laundry, meal provision and child care.
What I usually find about charitable organisations offering services is that they are not very readily available. I have to dig around and look them up to see what’s on offer and then when I do pluck up the courage to ring them up, I find it too awkward having to ask for anything.
Not with Hand In Hand. Jennifer was a godsend. She literally arrived on my doorstep and dug in to help and take a lot of the pressure off normal household tasks. She sent in a team of cleaners to do a deep clean as children with cancer have little to no immunity whilst on treatment. She sent cooked square meals to the house five days a week for as long as we needed and sent a lovely lady to our house to help look after my daughter to give me time to rest.
The horror of a childhood cancer diagnosis is something only parents in this position understand and this charity was set up by a cancer parent. Hand In Hand get it and they make it better.
Hand in Hand West provide practical support for families in the West of Ireland whose lives have been affected by childhood cancer. Call Hand in Hand West on 091-799759, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.handinhand.ie.