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Coping with Your Worst Nightmare - When Your Child has Cancer

27/07/2016 14:40 | Updated 27 July 2016

When my two-year-old son Luke was diagnosed with cancer our family went into crisis.

Luke, his dad and me needed a lot of support to cope with the shock, and then the turmoil we all went through during his treatment, especially as I'd just given birth to our baby boy, Euan.

I turned to my partner Tim and my family, especially my mum, as I always do when I need help. I spoke to her about my fears, my hopes, my sadness, my joy from random acts of kindness from strangers when they heard about Luke, and my grief when other little warriors on his ward went to sleep forever. In return she gave me only words of comfort, kindness and support.

My mum was the one who drove the two hours to hospital in Nottingham and two hours home every Saturday to see us all during the first three months of Luke's treatment. She did this while working full time, keeping her house, and emotionally supporting my siblings and dad.

At the time I didn't even consider how she was coping. My thoughts were focused on Luke and my new baby. I recently had a very emotional conversation with my mum to ask how she coped. She told me she used her own support network but there were times that she felt exhausted and needed a break but couldn't bear the thought of not coming, in case something terrible happened.

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I often wonder what happens to other parents going through this horrific journey without the kind of support I had from my mum, partner, family and friends. What happens if you don't have someone trustworthy to be able to lean on, and cry tears of anger, tears of pain, tears of happiness, tears of exhaustion? Where does their emotional support come from?

As well as the support I got from my family and friends I got a lot of support from the brilliant doctors involved in Luke's care, the nurses, the play assistants that helped him understand what was happening during treatment, and our social worker Tamsin, from the children and young people's cancer support charity CLIC Sargent.

Tamsin supported our whole family throughout it all. She helped with a lot of the practical and financial stuff, and sometimes the emotional stuff too, and her help meant we could focus on Luke, and him getting better.

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We were miles away from home for Luke's treatment, first in Nottingham, then for specialist treatment in London. Both times we were able to stay nearby to each hospital in CLIC Sargent's free Homes from Home accommodation. It made such a difference, and my mum was able to stay over too, when we needed her close.

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it's not just the child or their parents that suffer. Potentially, cancer can take someone's grandchild, cousin or nephew. These family members need someone to talk to too. My mum received some emotional support from the lovely ladies at Billy's House, one of the Homes from Homes we stayed at. I remember her being comforted by a conversation she had with a house cleaner at the other - Paul's House - on mother's day - while my son was receiving a particularly awful treatment. But I think that grandparents in particular could do with extra support to cope.

I did not meet one person on our journey who worked or volunteered for CLIC Sargent that I felt I had to hide my true feelings from. Every person from social worker to house keeper had the children's and parents and the child's family's best interests at the centre of everything.

That support, particularly the emotional support they give, must mean even more for people who don't have strong support networks of their own.

Luke's been in remission for almost two years now. I feel so lucky to have our beautiful boy with us and I was so proud when earlier this year he was chosen to front the supermarket Lidl's fundraising drive to raise £1 million for CLIC Sargent. I was even prouder when I heard that the target has been reached six months early! I'm told that £1 million could pay the running costs of the entire Homes from Home network for over a year, or pay for 40,000 hours of care from CLIC Sargent's social workers and nurses.

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In short - it will support families like ours when they need it most - and you can help too.

CLIC Sargent's Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September is sponsored by Lidl. This year it's raising awareness of the impact of cancer on family life, and encouraging people to get together to raise £170 for families like ours, by undertaking a challenge or organising a cake sale.

Please think about getting involved because you can make a massive difference to parents who are doing their best to cope with their worst nightmare right now - take it from someone who knows.

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Lidl UK has raised £1 million for children and young people's cancer support charity CLIC Sargent and is the lead sponsor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place in September 2016. To find out how to get involved or support CLIC Sargent visit: www.clicsargent.org.uk/CCAM

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