There cannot be many people who have not been affected by cancer in some way at some point during their lives.
It is still considered rare, however, for a child to be affected by cancer, even though there are 10,000 children and young persons currently receiving treatment in the UK today.
Learning that your child has cancer is undoubtedly one of the worst feelings in the world for any parent, and you probably know very little about childhood cancer until it happens to you, like Pippa Miln from Manley.
Pippa’s son Sam was just four when he was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumour in November 2009. Wilm’s is a type of kidney cancer which is thought to originate from very specialised cells in the embryo known as metanephric blastema. His diagnosis came completely out of the blue following a trip to an out of hours doctor one Sunday night.
“Sam was in pain and had blood in his urine and I was convinced he had kidney stones; after all he had never shown any signs of being poorly,” recalls Pippa. “The following day followed a series of tests and even when an out of hours doctor was called in to do a CT scan I was still of the opinion we were dealing with something minor.
“Then we were called into a side room and when they opened the door and there were four people waiting for us I knew this was something that was going to turn our world upside down. As they told us, I felt like I wasn’t in the room, I couldn’t take in what they were saying. I didn’t understand what it meant, but from that moment something kicked in, a protective mechanism that made everything seem surreal and made me take a very practical approach to everything.”
Before that day, Pippa says she lived in a ‘naive bubble’, assuming nothing like that could ever have happened to anyone she knew, let alone herself. But she forced herself to remain positive.
“Sam was transferred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital immediately, and what a place. He had a line for his chemotherapy drugs put in the following day and the chemo began the following week to shrink the tumour prior to an operation to remove his kidney four weeks later,” she explained. “That was the hardest day of all. Sam went down to theatre at 9am and didn’t return till 4pm, the tumour had ruptured and was attached to his spleen.
“It was this stage we were told he definitely had a stage 4 tumour and as well as a course of chemotherapy, he would have to undergo radiotherapy as well. The next nine months consisted of weekly trips to Alder Hey for chemotherapy and a two-week intensive radiotherapy programme at Clatterbridge. The drugs are powerful stuff and really knock them for six but kids are great and they deal with it much better than adults.”
“How do you cope? You just do,” says Pippa. “You learn to take each day as it comes. You remain positive every step of the way. It’s very hard not to be when the kids are so amazing themselves. I didn’t feel I had the right to wallow when Sam was taking it in his stride.
“The professionals at Alder Hey are like guardian angels, even now when we go back for check ups I always feel safe in there. The nurses both from Macmillan and Clic Sargent treated Sam like he was the most special boy on this planet.”
Thankfully, Sam has now been clear of cancer for four and a half years.
“We are over the moon,” says Pippa. “He’s taught me a great deal but most importantly not to take things for granted and to live each day to the full with no regrets. For those who know me, I certainly do that!
“And Sam is a very special boy for it all too. He’s a smiler and loves making people laugh and he’s one of the most sensitive and caring kids I know.”