Summary: I was used to my boisterous four-year-old picking up lumps and bumps but I hadn't noticed it the day before so I asked the doctor to have a look. I became a little worried when he asked us to go straight upstairs to get it checked by the consultant on the children’s ward.
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Every little man deserves some Tenerife time!
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Good Friday 2016. As Sam and her little boy Oliver strolled casually across the fields to a doctor’s appointment, they looked forward to a busy Easter weekend ahead. There was a children’s party that afternoon and lots of plans with family and friends.
It was just to be on the safe side. Oliver had been ‘a little out of sorts’ all week and a couple of ‘funny coloured wees’ led Sam to suspect he may have a mild kidney or bladder infection. With the long weekend looming she had called 111, who gave her an appointment with the out of hours GP clinic at the local hospital.
“With hindsight, I keep thinking I should have known, but Oliver seemed fine” Sam explains. “He wasn’t sick or feverish and although he didn't want to eat his meals, he was more than happy to eat snacks – like many other four-year-olds. But then as we were sitting in the waiting room with a bottle of Oliver’s wee in my bag, I remember seeing a very small bulge on his tummy as he lent back in his chair. I pushed it gently and asked if it hurt, and Oliver said it didn’t.
I was used to my boisterous four-year-old picking up lumps and bumps but I hadn't noticed it the day before so I asked the doctor to have a look. I became a little worried when he asked us to go straight upstairs to get it checked by the consultant on the children’s ward. My partner Adam came to join us, but I still thought we were dealing with some sort of infection.
As they arrived on the children’s ward, they were immediately taken into a side room to see a doctor, who they later found out was a children’s oncologist. She examined the lump and it became horrifyingly clear that she knew immediately what is was.
Sam describes the moment when reality hit her at a thousand miles an hour.
“I remember hearing the doctor say ‘Have you had any thoughts what this might be?’ After that I can't remember anything. I couldn't breathe. My partner told me that she said the word cancer but I didn't hear it… I was just reeling from utter shock.
Sam and Oliver didn't actually leave the hospital until three days later. Needless to say, they missed the party and Easter just paled into insignificance. Oliver’s blood pressure was too high so they kept trying lots of different medications to regulate it. He also had an x-ray and an ultrasound, which confirmed that he had a very large tumour on his left kidney and a possible infection.
The following week the family were referred to the paediatric day unit at Addenbooks for a CT scan and MRI. As Sam says, “It was a huge shock walking into a ward full of very poorly children – particularly while Oliver was jumping around playing with all the toys. It was hard to reconcile because looking at him, you wouldn't have known there was anything wrong.”
However, once again a day appointment turned into an overnight stay as test results that usually take a week were suddenly rushed through. It was more shocking news - Oliver had aggressive cancer in both kidneys and a few spots in his lungs. He would need surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The months that followed were beyond tough. A pre-operative course of chemotherapy was followed by six hours of surgery to remove one kidney completely and two tumours from the other. Then more chemotherapy and finally radiotherapy, for which little Oliver had to go under anaesthetic for every session to keep him still.
Throughout everything, Sam has drawn strength from Oliver’s upbeat spirit and mischievous humour; “Even when he was poorly in hospital, he would still do anything to get a laugh, including putting a fake plastic poo in his bed and telling the nurses he’d had an accident!”
Oliver finished his treatment earlier this year and has recovered well. At the moment, he is officially free of disease but it’s early days and Sam is all too aware that Oliver’s type cancer is one of the harder ones to beat. If he does recover completely, he will almost certainly need a kidney transplant.
So for now, the whole family just wants to enjoy some quality time with Oliver and has applied to Dreams Come True for a villa holiday near the Siam Water Park in Tenerife. Oliver absolutely adores swimming (something he couldn't do during his treatment) and has talked about Siam’s Lazy River and shark tank ever since he saw it on the TV. It would be a much-deserved treat for a little chap who has taken on the worst cancer could throw at him with bravery and an unbeatable sense of humour.