Debbie and Andrew Moran from Warstock, Birmingham, whose year six-year-old daughter Abigail is going through treatment for leukaemia, are fronting a new campaign that’s raising awareness of the hidden mental health impact a cancer diagnosis has on families, and the need for the right support.
In a moving short online film made by CLIC Sargent, the UK’s leading cancer support charity for children and young people, released to coincide with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) this September, Debbie and her family share what life has been like since the shock of Abigail’s diagnosis in May 2015.
Within it, Debbie talks frankly about how the trauma of Abigail’s illness and watching her go through treatment saw her become depressed and anxious. Yet she had to wait nearly a year for the counselling she needed to help her cope.
Help on hand
Fortunately help was at hand for the Morans from their CLIC Sargent Support Worker Sam Collins, who works as part of an independent team based at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Abigail’s primary treatment centre, offering emotional and practical support to whole families.
After speaking with Debbie, Sam was able to speak with the hospital about how Debbie was feeling emotionally in greater detail, and following this intervention she got her first counselling appointment.
Debbie’s experiences echo the results of a parent survey conducted by CLIC Sargent which found that during their child’s cancer treatment 6 in 10 (63%) experience depression, and more than a third (37%) experience panic attacks. However less than 40% of parents accessed support for managing stress and anxiety during their child’s treatment.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
CLIC Sargent and the Morans are now encouraging people to show their support for families struggling to cope with the impact of cancer on their lives by getting a CLIC Sargent Gold Ribbon pin badge this CCAM from its online shop, to help fund the charity's vital work. They are also calling for more people to sign up online and campaign with CLIC Sargent to get a better deal for families like theirs.
As well as providing a friendly ear for Debbie and her family, Sam at CLIC Sargent also helped them manage with other hidden cancer costs, like hospital parking and travel, by providing advice on benefits and awarding financial grants.
"When the doctor told us it was leukaemia, I just remember saying 'no,no that must be wrong'. My husband broke down in tears and Abigail kept saying 'what's wrong daddy?'. Life was a whirlwind after that.
“Abigail was so frightened during treatment because of all the needles, and was fearful when the doctors and nurses came to see her. As a mum I felt helpless, I didn’t want them to hurt her, but I also knew that what they were doing was to save her.
“Trying to keep my emotions in check so as not to frighten her was one of the hardest things I have done.
“In the end it all got on top of me. Doctors even thought that I might have had a mini-stroke.
“I went back and forth to the GP a few times and ended up on tablets, which I didn't want to do. Then Sam from CLIC Sargent heard what was going on and helped me get therapy at the hospital.
“There was a massive waiting list and I'd been on it a while around 6-7 months, but he spoke with them more about how I was feeling and I got my first appointment shortly afterwards.
“All in all it took nearly a year to get that first appointment but now I’ve got somebody to talk to things are getting better.
“So this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month please show your support for families like ours by getting a CLIC Sargent Gold Ribbon pin badge and becoming a CLIC Sargent campaigner.”
Debbie’s experiences have driven her to set up her own support group for parents whose children have or have had cancer at the nursery she owns and runs.
“It started as a Facebook page for parents of children who are or have been on ward 15, the children's cancer ward where Abigail was treated.
“It is a place where parents can make friends with other parents, and get informal advice and support. Some are in treatment, some have finished treatment, some are bereaved.
“When you are in hospital you chat to other parents for hours sometimes. But after that you lose touch. So the Facebook page has helped reunite people too.
“We've done a couple so far, and are aiming to run them about once a month. But I always say that people are welcome to call or drop in anytime if they need to. Because I know all too well that sometimes you just need somebody to talk to.”
Kate Lee, Chief Executive of CLIC Sargent, said:
"Parents like Debbie have shared painfully honest accounts with us highlighting the hidden costs of cancer – whether it’s the panic they feel every time their child has a high temperature, the emotional strain of staying strong for your family or fearing relapse at any time.
“At CLIC Sargent, we know cancer’s impact stretches far beyond the shock of diagnosis and can last long after treatment finishes, this is why we strive to support the whole family, not just the person with cancer.”
For more information about how you can support CLIC Sargent during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month please visit: www.clicsargent.org.uk/ccam
For more information about CLIC Sargent, an interview or images, please contact Claire Monger on 020 8752 2938 or email@example.com