Abbey’s parents took her to the hospital after noticing bruises and a rash on her body. Tests confirmed that she had ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia). The diagnosis has had a huge emotional impact on Abbey and her family, as her mum Debbie explains.
“The doctor came to see us and broke the news that they thought Abbey had leukaemia, and it was a hell of a shock. I just remember saying ‘no, no, no, that must be wrong!’ and my husband broke down in tears. Abbey kept saying, ‘what’s wrong daddy?’ Life was a whirlwind after that.”
A lumber puncture confirmed that Abbey had ALL.
At the hospital
“We were moved to the specialist cancer ward which was a hard journey to make - the fear of the realisation that it was cancer, and to see all the children so poorly. But what struck me was all the smiles on the ward despite what they were all facing.
“She was so frightened because of all the needles and the fear as 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.
“She spent almost all of December  in hospital with pneumonia and we had to cancel a special trip to Lapland that we had planned. Because her immune system was so weak she was moved to isolation room on her own.
“Our CLIC Sargent Social Worker Sam has been great throughout all of this. When we were first diagnosed he came in for a chat and offered to help us, and befriended Abbey by watching videos of animals doing funny things on his phone.
“Abbey had never had her hair cut, and we were worried about her losing her hair. Sam found a Barbie doll for her that had wigs and headscarves and that helped a lot. Once it started to fall out, she dealt with it, like she dealt with everything else she had thrown at her and adjusted.
“Abbey is now back at school full time and is mixing more. She's rosy cheeked and her hair is back – she's got pigtails for the first time which she is thrilled about.
Juggling work and hospital
“I work for myself, I run a day nursery and I'm lucky enough to have staff who I could trust to keep things going. I tried to run things from home as best I could but when your child is so sick your head isn't in the game. My husband also works at the nursery. He had to take on more work to try and bring more money in when Abbey was really ill.
“At the beginning of last year  everything got on top of me, I suffered a lot with anxiety and depression and I really struggled to get help.
“I phoned a local charity but they said I was too well for their support! I tried every avenue and felt like there was nowhere to turn, and with all the extra expenses we couldn't afford private therapy.
“I went back and forth to the GP a few times and ended up on tablets, which I didn't want to do. He was frustrated too as he had nowhere to refer me. Then he suggested getting in touch with CLIC Sargent! Well, I don't know how it happened but the next thing was Sam was on the phone and came out to talk to me at home.”
“Sam helped me get therapy at the hospital. There is 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. It took nearly a year to get that help.”
Supporting other parents
“That experience has driven me to set up my own support group. It started as a Facebook page for parents of children who are or have been on ward 15, the children's cancer ward where Abbey 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 have a spare room at the nursery which we're now using to host coffee and play mornings for families and children affected by cancer. Because I know that sometimes you just need somebody to talk to.
“I have to be aware of my own emotions doing all of this though and make sure that I get quiet time too. My counsellor helps me manage this side of things.”
A new normal
“Now as a family we're all trying to move forward and it's getting better, it's as normal as it can be. It's our new normal. We’ll always be alert, worried that the cancer will come back. We will complete maintenance hopefully by Christmas this year, but we will still be receiving help and have appointments for a while yet. We won't know what, if any longer term effects this will have on Abbey, but it's made us realise what's important in life, and what's not, and we can deal with anything as a family.”
Join our fight
Cancer can have an emotional and mental health impact on the whole family. 95% of parents experienced anxiety during their child’s treatment.
When cancer strikes young lives, CLIC Sargent helps the whole family cope. This Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, join our fight and sign up to be a CLIC Sargent campaigner.