My youngest daughter, Alice, was diagnosed with a pylocytic astrocytoma in July 2006, shortly after her 3rd birthday. The news hit our family like a train, and even now the memories of those early days can catch me off guard and overwhelm me. But, over time, the small piece of tumour that was too close to her brain stem for the neurosurgeon to remove has been closely monitored and amazingly it has shrivelled away to nothing.
So here we are, nine years on, and at her most recent scan her consultant told us that our journey with the paediatric oncology team has come to an end. We are discharged. It’s a little strange, learning to live without the background presence of the oncology team providing a quiet reassurance that all is well. Alice, of course, is delighted; no more cannulas and no more scans and I am taking my lead from her, not least because of all the other families we have met along the way who long for the day they are in our position.
If anyone was to ask me what going through this experience has taught me, it is to never take anything for granted. Working as an emergency nurse and then as a paramedic for over 20 years, you’d think I would have known that already. But until that day in July 2006 I’d only ever dealt with other people’s life threatening situations. Then Alice’s illness crashed, uninvited, into our lives and taught me that it really can happen to anyone.
Now I am thankful every day that Alice is not only well, but a happy, kind, sensitive and very loving little girl. She is doing well at school, enjoys seeing her friends, having sleepovers, and is developing a love for the theatre. Anyone who meets her for the first time these days is none the wiser to the fact that she was ever ill.
To anyone in the early stages of this journey, my heart goes out to you. I hope you can look at Alice and see that things can turn out fine in the end. I’ll never forget the early days when everything was uncertain, but I don’t always think that’s a bad thing. Remembering the worst of times has given me a sense of perspective on life that few people ever achieve.