Two years ago nine-year-old Lucy and her family received the worst Christmas present of all, a diagnosis of cancer.
Lucy lives with her mum and dad, Julie and Roger, on their semi-rural property. According to Julie, Lucy has always been an easy-going, outdoors kid who loves animals, especially the family dogs and her favourite stuffed toy, a donkey.
In the six months leading up to her diagnosis, Lucy hadn’t been herself and was suffering from terrible back pain. She had many tests – including an MRI – to try and figure out what was wrong, but the results came back clear.
However, Lucy’s pain just got worse. Then one Sunday two weeks before Christmas it all came to a horrifying head:
“She got out of the shower and went to bend down to pick a towel up off the floor and she collapsed. She just couldn’t move”.
Within 24 hours, Lucy was diagnosed with leukaemia. Her shocked mum and dad had to explain the diagnosis to their nine-year-old whilst dealing with the agony of knowing she might die.
“We got called into a room at the hospital. They told us she had acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) and needed to start treatment immediately.
Finding out what it actually was – cancer – was a huge shock. And it all happened so quickly.”
The thought of having to explain this to Lucy just baffled them. Julie just decided to put it into straight terms, so she just went to her and said “Oh, you know, they just took a blood test. Well, something’s come up on it and they think you’ve got something wrong with your blood so they’re going to transfer us to another hospital and they’re going to do some more tests.”
Lucy seemed ok with this on the account that she was going in an ambulance! Lucy kept saying “Oh well perhaps, whatever it is, now we’ll get it sorted out,” because she was fed up with going backwards and forwards to doctors as well.”
Christmas was tragic but the two years that followed were even worse for the family. Lucy endured 17 operations and gruelling chemotherapy treatment that caused severe side effects and wreaked havoc on her young body. Lucy was in and out of a wheelchair and had to go back to wearing nappies. She had a couple of collapsed lungs that needed to be drained as well as crush fractures to her spine.
Throughout the treatment Lucy had her beloved toy Donkey by her side. He was so frequently in hospital or treatment rooms that the nurses endearingly nick-named him “Dr Donk”. But not even Dr Donk could make Lucy smile through the pain. With each fever, infection, and blood transfusion, Julie and Roger wondered if they might lose their little girl.
“From day one, you just wish it was you that had got it and not her. And I’ve always said that to her.”
It wasn’t just the physical aspects of cancer that Lucy had to struggle with.
Lucy made lots of friends in hospital and became very close to a little girl who also had cancer and was staying in the bed next to hers. They spent lots of time together as they were having treatment at the same time, and their mums also got to know each other.
Tragically, Lucy’s friend didn’t get better and eventually lost her life. Within months Lucy watched two more friends get sicker and sicker until they too passed away.
Lucy has been seeing a psychologist to try to minimise the impact of the cancer and loss of some of her new friends, but also the long term prognosis. Julie said “She’s seeing a psychologist at the moment but it’s, you know, obviously still in the back of her mind that she might not be around for long but obviously we don’t know whether that’s the case or not but it’s kind of in … stuck in the back of her mind.”
Thankfully, eleven-year-old Lucy is now doing much better. Dr Donk is a little worse for wear, but he’s still there to help Lucy get better. After two years of pain and uncertainty, she has been given an 85 per cent chance of survival. The odds are stacked in her favour.
When asked about her hopes for Lucy, Julie simply says,“Just that she can try and resume a normal life and that she’s got many years ahead of her. That she survives.”
Imagine if your child or grandchild was going through this at Christmas time.
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