You may or may not know but the month of September is designated Child Cancer Awareness Month by the charity Children With Cancer UK. A large part of the project is a petition to the government asking for information cards detailing the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer to be given to all parents.
It may seem strange to think that cancer needs to be brought into the spotlight any more than it already is. Many, many people have been affected by cancer in one way or another. And, in some ways I’m not overly keen on giving it any more attention and power than it craves already.
But, the sad reality is that cancer does effect children to. And as we started to discover at the beginning of this year, it’s a lot more common than you may realise. The idea behind the campaign is to raise awareness of all types of childhood cancers. By highlighting the symptoms of all the different types of cancer, the hope is that more lives will be saved thanks to a quicker diagnosis. (A similar project was started to raise awareness of the differing types of meningitis and was very successful).
I don’t mean for this post to be hysterical or scaremongering, and I appreciate that parents have plenty on their plates already without speculating the worst about their children. But, if I had ever thought about childhood cancer before Poppy was diagnosed – then I thought of it as something that happened to other people. The sad fact is that 4,000 new cases of cancer in children and young adults are diagnosed in the UK each year.
I sincerely hope that anyone reading this blog will never have to experience what we’ve been through with Poppy but I saw that the charity had written a list of symptoms to look out for and I thought it may be helpful to share ? Here they are….
Continued, unexplained weight loss
Headaches, often with early morning vomiting
Increased swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints and legs
Lump or mass especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits
Development of excessive bruising, bleeding or rash
A whiteish colour behind the pupils
Nausea which persists or vomiting without nausea
Constant tiredness or noticeable paleness
Eye or vision changes which occur suddenly or persist
Recurrent or persistent fevers of unknown origin
Obviously this list is not comprehensive in all cases, and some children may experience incredibly few symptoms at all. Poppy barely had any. It’s also not my intention to scare people into constantly checking their child for a sign of darker forces at work. Yet the internet is awash with dodgy medical diagnosis and guff written about cancer but these are straight forward facts and hopefully it’s a help rather than a hindrance. I do believe it’s helpful to be informed. The fact remains that an early diagnosis will save lives.
One thing I’ve heard time and again when talking to other parents at hospital is the length of time it took for their children to get a firm diagnosis. I’ve heard so many stories of parents being fobbed off my GP’s who played down their child’s symptoms and were at their wits end as they knew something was wrong with their child. I’m not looking to lay blame with GP’s at all. It’s incredibly rare for them to see a case of childhood cancer during their career and as such they’re unfamiliar with making such an earth shattering call.
When I look back to Poppy’s diagnosis I think we were lucky. Which may sound a bit strange but the general feeling is that it was caught fairly early. No one is entirely sure of course, and we’ll never be able to pinpoint the time specifically when she got ill. (Something I really struggle with but I’m learning to accept). What I do think went in our favour was that we bypassed the doctors surgery altogether. Out of chance rather than any preconceived ideas about what was wrong with her, it just happened to be a Sunday and we took her to A&E via a walk in centre first. We’d only gone at the insistence of Kevin’s sister Maria, who’d offered to mind Oscar while we took Poppy to get checked out for ‘looking a bit pale and not seeming quite right.’
I always feel we’ll be in Maria’s debt. And, how grateful I am to the doctors at Whiston hospital for taking us seriously and being so thorough. Never in a million years did I guess the path our lives were about to take. But by midnight that night we’d learned that her haemoglobin levels were 4, when they should be 10 and I knew deep down that something was seriously wrong.
Maybe it’s an instinct or my predilection to being a worrier but I think deep down on that Sunday night I knew what was wrong with our baby girl. We didn’t get a formal diagnosis till the following Thursday. But four days after a fairly innocuous trip to the hospital my worst fears were confirmed.
I seem to find myself referring to things as either before or after Poppy was diagnosed. But it’s a significant point of reference and turning point in all our lives. The time frame of our world is before and after cancer. Sometimes look back to that fateful Sunday in January, and watch events back in my mind like a film where I know the ending but can’t stop watching as I desperately want the ending to change. I see us as powerless beings getting swept along in what was to be our fate which had already been mapped out. But, I now can rationalise and see that we had to start at the beginning to get to where we are today. In a contrary way that I am so grateful that Poppy’s journey started when it did. The only thing more scary than looking back at memories and pictures from that time and realising what was going on inside her while we were oblivious, is imagining if we’d have carried on not knowing and she didn’t start to get the treatment she needed so quickly.
I tend not to look backwards so much these days. At first every Thursday (diagnosis day) was hard, then The 23rd of the month (an anniversary of sorts) would make me shudder.
But slowly things started to change. Counting off weeks of treatment completed. Weeks turned into months and she was racing through each stage of treatment and the year seemed to be flying by. Now our calender has started to be filled with events other than hospital visits and more things to enjoy.
Poppy still is being treated for cancer but it doesn’t define who she is. Nor should it. She’s so much more than that. The things she’s accomplished and the progress she’s made impress me on a regular basis. So while I feel it’s important to document the start of how all this started and hopefully raise some understanding at the same time. It’s important to keep making those great leaps into her future too.