Ben is a former teacher and father to two daughters, eight-year-old Sarah and three-year-old Laura. We spoke to Ben a few days ago on what was almost exactly a year to the day that his eldest daughter was first diagnosed with cancer. Today, Ben shares his story;
‘It’s hard to imagine it’s only a year ago that I first found out Sarah had developed cancer. I wanted to share mine and my family’s experiences for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to highlight just what an incredible job everyone at the NHS and especially Southampton Children’s Hospital did for Sarah. Secondly, I wanted to use this experience as an opportunity to encourage others to do something for those children who can’t reach treatment because they are too far away, can’t afford it or never even knew they had cancer. I hope our story inspires readers to act now by supporting World Child Cancer to give children around the world the gift of growing up.
“Around a year ago Tasha, Sarah and Laura’s mother, had taken the kids to Spain during their summer holidays after Sarah had just finished year 3 at school. I spoke to the girls almost every night whilst they were away and one evening Tasha told me that Sarah was feeling a bit unwell. They later visited the GP after Tasha had noticed there was blood in Sarah’s urine and she was given antibiotics as it was thought she had a urine infection.”
“Although worried I didn’t think much of it as I expected Sarah to be back to her usual self after a good night’s sleep.
“Two days after being told Sarah had been unwell Tasha sent me a picture of our daughter on a drip in the local hospital.”
Ben explained that after being given the antibiotics, Sarah had bled when going to the toilet again and was complaining of terrible stomach pains. Natasha phoned the resort reception for help and an ambulance arrived to take the family to the local hospital in Murcia where she was put on the drip.
“After the initial shock of the picture I was able to have a video call with Sarah and she seemed far more upbeat than I expected. I was shopping when speaking to Sarah and was picking up a Harry Potter box set as a gift for her to lift her spirits when she returned home. Just as my mind had been put to rest I received a call from Tasha with news that turned my world upside down in a matter or moments.”
Ben had just been told that after an emergency ultrasound the doctors had confirmed that their eight-year-old daughter had developed kidney cancer.
“Tasha and the kids flew back to the UK the next day as planned and Sarah was admitted to Southampton Children’s hospital where I stayed by her side as she was being treated. We initially stayed at the hospital from Sunday to Tuesday before returning on Thursday where Sarah underwent a minor operation before starting the chemotherapy protocol. It seems strange but when I we first arrived on the paediatric oncology ward it never crossed my mind that this was a ward just for children with cancer. It was only when I started meeting other parents in the kitchen area that I realised we weren’t alone.”
Throughout the duration of Sarah’s stay at the hospital, Ben was astounded at the quality of care and the personnel who went above and beyond each day to care for Sarah and the other children on the ward.
“As well as the doctors and nurses we met Hayley and Claire from the play therapy team who were phenomenal throughout. Nothing was too much for them and they did their utmost to make Sarah feel as comfortable as possible.”
This level of commitment and quality of care extended to the teachers at the onsite school. Sarah had been unable to go back to her normal school due to her treatment, but she could attend the hospital school when fit enough. Sadly, Sarah was sometimes too weak to attend the hospital school, but the teachers would still take the time to come and read to her instead.
“All the little bits added up to help make us all feel at home despite going through an incredibly tough period for our family. Our three-year-old, Laura, came to the hospital with us and was overjoyed when the therapy dogs came in to entertain the kids. Laura loved walking the dogs around the ward and it were these elements alongside the treatment itself that made an enormous difference.”
In September 2017, the team at Southampton Children’s Hospital conducted a successful operation to remove Sarah’s kidney.
“The operation went better than we could have hoped for and within a few weeks Sarah was even able to return to school. She initially re-joined on a part-time basis as she slowly returned to ‘normal life’. On one occasion Sarah’s teacher phoned to say that she had fallen asleep during the day, but she was always determined to go back as soon as possible.”
“Sarah’s friends and teachers at school were incredible. One of the side effects of the chemotherapy meant she had lost all her hair so the school allowed her to wear bandanas and hats to help her feel more comfortable. The school made every effort to help and allowed her and some friends play inside during break times when Sarah didn’t have the energy to go outside. Her former year three teacher would also go out of her way to see Sarah even though she was no longer in her class.”
When speaking to Ben we could hear the pride in his voice as he spoke of his daughter’s incredible strength and resilience to continue to be herself despite all that she had gone through.
“It has been amazing – the best thing ever – to watch Sarah regain her strength and be able to get back to enjoying her childhood again. Despite missing most of the first term of the school year she managed to achieve all her expected targets which is testament to how strong-willed she is. “
“Sarah also played a role in the end of year play, it was awesome to see her on the stage doing the things she loved again; singing, dancing and smiling with her classmates. I am incredibly proud of our daughter and so grateful for the people who helped to ensure she received the treatment she so desperately needed. “
Ben’s experiences with childhood cancer struck him more so when being introduced to World Child Cancer and hearing how some children struggle to access any more of treatment due to a lack of finances or a sheer lack of awareness that children can develop cancer.
“Myself and Tasha were not sure about sharing Sarah’s story especially so soon after her diagnosis and treatment but after hearing of the stark differences between cancer care in the UK and those in lower income countries I felt like we had to do something to spread the word.
“It’s not fair that children with cancer will have different chances of survival just based on where they were born. I hope Sarah’s story not only helps raise awareness of childhood cancer but also inspires others to do something to support children with cancer around the world.
You can join Ben in supporting children with cancer around the world by donating during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September.