We can all imagine how devastating it would be to hear the words “your child has cancer”, and the fear and turmoil this would bring to your life. Over 150 parents, grandparents, brothers and siblings across Yorkshire each year have their lives devastated by a childhood cancer diagnosis.
15th February is International Childhood Cancer Day, a day we can join in with others across the world to recognise the terrible impact of this disease and be more aware of its symptoms and the effects on a child and their family. Local charity Candlelighters have been supporting children diagnosed with cancer and their families for over 45 years, who know all too well how this disease shatters lives.
Amy shares the story of her son Aaron’s cancer diagnosis on International Day of Awareness
Our family is me (Amy), Pops (Richard) and our three children – Aaron, Georgia and Nievie.
In September 2020, when Aaron was eight-and-a-half years old, he had an appendectomy at our local hospital. He became extremely poorly after the operation, so was admitted to Leeds Children’s Hospital. After Aaron had undergone blood tests and scans, we were told that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma Stage 4. It had spread to his bowel, liver, kidney and bone marrow. He was a very poorly little boy.
Aaron is a lovely, kind, caring boy who is loved by so many. Before his diagnosis, he loved playing Minecraft on his Xbox online with his friends, and he was so excited to be going back to school after the summer holidays so he could see them again as they started Year 4.
We, as a family, were in complete shock – never in all this world did we expect such a devastating diagnosis. The only childhood cancer we had ever seen was on television adverts for childhood cancer charities. We had been affected by losing loved ones such as grandparents to the disease, but never a young, and seemingly very healthy, child of our own.
Following a major operation on his bowel, Aaron began a six-month programme of intensive chemotherapy treatment. He also needed blood transfusions and platelet transplants, so spent most of this time staying at the hospital – mainly in isolation because of constant infections.
I was constantly by his side, staying at the hospital with him. This caused upheaval for our family, as Richard had to work, which takes him away from home from Monday to Friday. Georgia (then five) and Nievie (then two) consequently had to live with their grandparents during the week, before Richard returned for the weekend.
Because Aaron was in hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, he wasn’t allowed any visitors. This meant that he was unable to see his sisters or Pops and, in turn, Georgia and Nievie were unable to see their brother or their mummy. However, Richard would take the girls to the hospital every Saturday and sit outside. I would go outside to see them, while Aaron waved to them from the ward window.
The incredible treatment and care provided by the trust at Leeds Children’s Hospital is undoubtedly the best in the world, and it was enhanced by the amazing charities that run alongside it. This is of course where we were first introduced to Candlelighters. The Candlelighters team were constantly on hand for anything that was needed, offering support to the whole family. Candlelighters’ support was such an invaluable necessity for both my and Aaron’s wellbeing throughout our stay in hospital.
We hoped and prayed every day but, however dire, helpless, and hopeless all of this felt, one thing that was a ray of light throughout the journey was Candlelighters.
Everyone felt so helpless and wanted to do all they could to help. We knew that, as a charity, Candlelighters constantly need donations for their amazing work. Aaron’s grandma, Julie, helped raise nearly £3,000 for Candlelighters through a Facebook page and Aaron’s friend Charlie raised £432 by cycling to Stoodley Pike. Brothers Zachery and Henry braved the shave, raising £514. A close, life-long friend of Aaron’s grandparents, Steve Bolton, wrote a beautiful song about wanting Aaron home, and uploaded a video performance to YouTube to raise money for Candlelighters and help raise awareness of childhood cancer.
Aaron was given the all-clear on 31st March 2021. It was the biggest relief ever. He continues to be monitored monthly at the hospital, where the incredible team keep a close eye on him to ensure there is no recurrence. Aaron continues to build up his strength and is gradually gaining weight. He has his mop of hair back too. He is back to being ‘best big brother’ and the kindest of boys. He has started a new school where he has forged new friends and has taken up the love of football, his favourite team being ‘Real Madrid’. Aaron was even the ball boy at a major premier football game at Newcastle in December, which was a day we’ll remember forever.
The continued support Candlelighters give is simply unprecedented. The quality and skill of their care is never-ending. Aaron and I, and the whole family, would not have survived physically or psychologically without Candlelighters. The love and care delivered by each and every one of their employees and volunteers is simply beautiful.
Emily Wragg, Candlelighters CEO said:
Our hearts go out to anyone affected by childhood cancer. Its effects can devastate families and communities and it is important to recognise this on International Childhood Cancer Day. We can also be proud that as communities across Yorkshire, we can and have provided so much care and support to these children, teenagers and their families.
Your donations and fundraising have meant that families have not had to face these incredibly difficult times alone.
Despite the current cost of living crisis, people across Yorkshire have continued to give and we are truly thankful for this. Any act of kindness, no matter how small or large really does make a big difference to a child and their family.
To support the families of children with cancer, Candlelighters relies on generous donations from the community. If you’d like to support Candlelighters with a donation, you can do so here https://www.candlelighters.org.uk/