Tag Archives: childhood

The Sun in Flight

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way

It’s been a crappy week, writes Celia. For the last ten days we’ve been in and out of hospital trying to work out what’s causing Henry’s mystery symptoms. Of course, the whole hemisphere is ill at the moment, and of course Hen’s not immune to this. But swelling lymph nodes and fatigue, I do not like.

Haircut

The last time was a full shave for chemo, this time it was a light trim

JD’s assuming it’s a self-limiting virus. This means he’s at work, working; probably thinking about what to have for tea tonight, or having a barney with a Daily Mail journalist. I’m spending the day standing at the kitchen counter checking my phone’s switched on and that it has a signal, should the hospital call. They really ought to have been in touch by now – they took his last bloods at 8 this morning – what have they seen? are they in a meeting about it? are they working out how to tell us? what will happen next?

The treatment for kids who relapse at this stage is unthinkable. Will we still be able to live in London? Where will Huck go to school if we don’t? What about the new job I’m supposed to start in two weeks?

This is not the way to exist. And it’s not how we have existed for the last two, nay five years, since life got tough on our kids’ health. After Huck definitively won his battle against extreme prematurity, septicaemia and a brain heamorrhage, I had been through enough to know how to live. When you’re having a good day, have a good day. Don’t spend it fretting about the next bad one. Feel the sun on your face. Or go to work, and work. No-one benefits from you shaking and staring at your phone for hours, willing someone to phone through an answer to your anxieties. Henry’s at school and going to his Xmas party this afternoon. That should, surely, count as a good day.

I am going back to see my therapist shortly, to see whether I can learn it all again. Because, whatever’s next for Henry, living in fear is not a help. It’s been creeping up on me for a while. And I know it’s probably linked, in part, to changes going on away from the world of Hen’s health. A couple of months ago I handed in my notice to the job where I’ve been happy and secure for some time. Ever since, I’ve kept on looking up at the heavens, waiting to be punished for my hubris. Who said I could have a child in remission and a new job? Just who, exactly, do I think I am?

My sister noticed I wasn’t myself on our half-term holiday in October. She pointed out to me that I was acting much more worried than usual. I know she was right because of the humungous number of shots I took of Henry on that holiday– the same picture, over and over again.

In the first few months after Henry went into remission, I took thousands of pictures. Multiple shots of the same scene, over and over. And I can’t delete them. I agonise over deleting even just one, in order to make room for more. What if we lost Henry, and what if Huck had to live with a fading memory of his beloved brother? What if I somehow inadvertently deleted the shot that would convey the essence of Henry – the one where he was flashing us an important message with the sole of his foot, or the back of his neck?

I have many, many shots of Henry on the beach from a sunny day in Majorca in October.

Majorca

Not quite getting the fullness of him

The sun was in his hair and I needed to trap it there. I clicked and clicked and couldn’t capture the way his curls catch and reflect the sunlight.

I know what I’m trying to do. Hence, the Dylan Thomas quote above. You can catch and sing the sun in flight, but you mustn’t learn, too late, that you were actually grieving, rather than singing, it on its way.

And the problem with trying to grasp and pin down the world every minute, is that you miss it in flight.

lock of hair

Curl

I took Henry for his first hair-cut (since it grew back after chemotherapy) last week, just after all the mystery symptoms came and our most recent run of hospital visits started. I couldn’t face the idea of it coming out again for more chemo, without having enjoyed one normal barber’s trip. I cut off a curl before we left. It’s in a paper package in a cupboard. It’s frozen in time, and it hasn’t done the job at all.

The sun is on Henry’s curls on his head, up in the playground at school right now.

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Are we trying to beat childhood cancer?

Henry is on old medicines. That is, they were developed a long time ago. We’re lucky in that mostly they work. Over the years, their combination and use has been tested and tweaked.

And now Henry, as part of the clinical trial UKALL2011, is helping to tweak the treatment further. This trial is about reducing the levels of poison needed to beat this childhood cancer.

Henry with Huck at nursery graduation 2014

Henry with Huck at nursery graduation 2014

These treatments have long-lasting effects; so striving to improve them is hugely important. The idea is to make the rest of H’s life and the lives of future children with leukaemia better.

I’ve wondered for some time why the medicines have been around so long and why new treatments have not appeared. This documentary helps to explain.

I’m delighted the excellent BBC documentary team at File on 4 have shone a light on this. Now it’s time for politicians, mandarins and industrialists to act.

Kill two birds with one stone: you could always download the podcast and listen to it while giving blood.

Leukaemia’s summer cocktails

We’ve been thinking a lot about side effects recently.

Henry has just begun a new stage of treatment: delayed intensification.

Henry starts his dex again

Henry starts his dex again

And as the name suggests, it means a lot of medicines. For this stage we’re joined by some old “friends”: dexamethasone, vincristine, asparaginase, cyclophosphamide, cytarabine, mercaptopurine, methotrexate as well as a new one: doxorubicin. (After a complete refusal of the synthetic banana-flavoured antibiotic septrin, Henry is now happily taking dapsone as well as the anti-viral aciclovir.)

Henry and Celia had a morning broiling yesterday at Safari Ward on the ninth floor at Great Ormond Street. It’s not a ward well suited to the current sunny spell as it gets very, very warm. Henry was in for his intrathecal methotrexate (a chemotherapy injected into his spine under general anaesthetic). I joined them as I wanted to talk to Henry’s consultant about the side effects of all these medicines. Ironically, our discussion was interrupted by Henry who reacts strongly when he wakes up after anaesthetic, and violently when the strong steroid, dexamethasone, is thrown into the mix. He was rage-filled and not to be reasoned with. He was bleeding. He had injured himself after falling off his scooter last week. And the scabs opened up when he hit his mum. After I was dragged from the consultant’s room, I got a quick punch in the face.

Dex also brings on a big appetite

Dex also brings on a big appetite

I’m writing this because it demonstrates the strong side effects these drugs can have. Fortunately these violent, character changing ones are short term and they do not last long. Henry calmed down quickly and was able to come home.

It’s the side effects you can’t see immediately, and those side effects that may not come for years that are more of a cause for worry.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a supplement to the scientific journal Nature. This special – Nature Outlook – focuses on leukaemia.

There is a superb video, which is part of the online supplement, and I would urge anyone to watch it:

http://youtu.be/kmAUYKledZg

There was also an article that brought home the brutality of the leukaemia treatment regimen for children: Drug safety: double jeopardy. It left me speechless and drained (here is a warning: if you have stumbled on this blog because your child has leukaemia – think carefully before you read the Nature piece. It is hard going). The article focuses on the long-term side effects of the leukaemia treatments. They are manifold, serious and unpleasant. They include other cancers and heart disease. And as ever with leukaemia, you are playing with odds you would not choose. It reminds me that we are, as cheerfully as possible, asking Henry to take medicines that could cause him huge problems in his adult life. They might not. They might. The enormity of this disease is staggering. And our ignorance is terrifying. It should be noted that the most serious effects in the article relate to people who were treated as children and are now in their forties and fifties. And as the protocols and treatments are refined the long term outlooks will change and improve. They are certainly very different for Henry than for a child being treated 40 years ago. But his treatment is a balancing act and it is uncertain. The doctors have to weigh up the risks of the drugs with their benefits – and reduce the toxic effects where they can. This is one of the aims of the trial Henry is part of.

Yet the contrast is remarkable between our fretfulness over this unseen future and our admiration of how Henry is handling the treatment now. Apart from his response to the dex and anaesthetic, he is a cause for huge optimism.

People continue to say to us that apart from his pallor and his thin hair, it would be difficult to tell he is sick.

The boys ride on Bournemouth pier

The boys ride on Bournemouth pier

Last week, we managed a week’s holiday in Dorset during a break in treatment. Henry swam for the first time in six months, he played in the sea, and he took his meds. And on the last day of his holiday he picked up the grazes I mentioned earlier – the kind that all children should sustain. He fell off his scooter while careering down one of Bournemouth’s sloping chines that lead to the sea. It all came from the growing normality mentioned in the previous post.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks we know that in September, Henry will move onto maintenance – two-and-a-half years of one daily and one weekly chemotherapy as well as quarterly intrathecal methotrexate.

It won’t be plain sailing and it won’t be easy. But if all goes to plan, it will be better.

Playing in the sea at Bournemouth

Playing in the sea at Bournemouth