By Ryan Smith
THROUGHOUT my visit to the Bradley house in Belnaleck this week, eldest son Sam, stopped only on a few occasions from playing with his toys and running around.
Once was to squeeze his father, Colm’s, face against his; another was so that his mum, Michelle, could wipe his nose.
On Tuesday of last week, Sam’s parents revealed that he was in remission from the cancer, Neuroblastoma. That means that doctors cannot find a trace of ‘live disease’. Sam will not be given the ‘all clear’ until January 2018.
Even so, the news that Sam had come this far was described by Michelle as comparable to the birth of both Sam and the couple’s second son Jake.
Reflecting on January 2013 , Michelle said that Sam had been ‘really unwell’ for several months.
In Mayo, where she is from, Sam was brought through a GP, doctor and registrar who examined the toddler.
“We were then brought to the relatives room with the nurse and two doctors to say that he had a twelve centimetre tumour, on his right side on his kidney.
“They didn’t use the word cancer, they said it’ll be treated with chemotherapy. I said ‘How do you know it’s cancer, you haven’t done a biopsy, and they said, it’s definitely cancer.
“Colm cried – I went into shock. I started to ask questions, I don’t know why, I don’t know what I was asking.”
Dad Colm, added: “He was sleeping in my arms and I remember just looking down at him. He’d a massive head of hair, and I remember asking: ‘Is he going to have chemo, and is he going to lose his hair?’ It was a stupid thing to ask – and she said yes and he’ll also have to have an operation to remove it. You just can’t get your head around it.”
Within weeks Sam began his treatment in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. The worst day for Michelle came around this time when Sam’s oncologist confirmed that test results now revealed that Sam had high risk neuroblastoma.
“I stood beside Sam’s cot, I’ll never forget it, being in room six, it was dark, it was late at night. I turned round and asked two questions: “Could he die?” And Sam’s oncologist said yes. “Could the treatment kill him?” And he said yes.”
The toddler’s treatment involved six rounds of rapid chemo; surgery to remove the right kidney and adrenal gland and as much of tumour as possible in late April; high does chemotherapy in June (in hospital for six weeks); 14 days radiation treatment – early September. From October to February, he started differentiation treatment and immunotherapy treatment until February.
In March, the couple were told that Sam’s ‘good’ kidney, was being adversely affected by the chemotherapy. They were also told that the tumour had reduced drastically, from 12cm to 1.5cm. But, that he may not get all his treatment here – and that they may have to travel to America, at huge expense.
Colm said: “It was odd because that was brilliant news, but then the news that he might not get all his treatment here was a real double whammy.”
And Michelle added: “It was difficult in that we didn’t want to do it, but we had to do it. It wasn’t difficult in that we would do anything to save Sam; it was difficult in that the journey you’re going through is incredibly emotional and private. It’s how much of yourself you want to let go.”
But, after months of fundraising, in the first week of September, the family received the news that they didn’t have to travel, which came as a huge relief.
“Now Sam is in remission, and it’s great – and we’re positive for the future. But because we’re his parents, we have to have that hope with realism. He’s running about, he’s like a normal two-year-old, but we know that the cancer relapses in over 50% of cases.
Michelle went on: “In the beginning he was very hard work as a baby, there was no understanding. He was so sick he would just cry and cry and cry – even when he saw the doors of the clinic.
“The biggest change in him growing up was after he turned two. There seemed to become an understanding with Sam – he fell in love, in a bizarre way, with the unit. He loves going to hospital now.
“Physically he has gained a lot of strength, he has got his hair back and he is like a typical two-year-old, tantrums and all!”
And, Michelle described her reaction to the news last week.
“The Tuesday, we didn’t know he was going to be in remission, it was a complete surprise. The elation I would compare it to is the day the two boys were born. Seeing him now – you do forget, or push away the negatives that have happened.”
Sam is registered to start pre-school in September.
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