Well on Monday 18 th Feb Harry took his very last retonoic acid tablet. It was just the same old ritual as usual. Harry crunching each of his 4 tablets with a spoonful of yogurt, sucking the retonoic acid bit out and then spitting the shell out afterwards! We acknowledged that it was the last tablet, but nothing eventful! I must admit I did feel quite emotional afterwards. Mainly because, that is it. Harry's cancer has been targeted with all we can give it, to be blasted away forever. No more fighting. We have to sit and wait and hope it never returns. It seems odd not to be fighting cancer anymore and it feels the safety net of treatment has gone. We are on our own now. No more toxic chemicals for Harry.
We now live in a parallel of hope and fear. Hope that Harry has the life he deserves and fear that his cancer returns. It could return in weeks, months, years, maybe never. Nobody really knows what side effects the many rounds of toxic fuelled infusions that Harry has endured, may present in the future.
I don't dwell on the fears all day every day. It's not like that. Some days are really good, others the fear settles in, perhaps a flash back occurs from thinking about treatment or when Harry was diagnosed and the feelings of utter despair become all too memorable!
It's certainly not a case of treatment finishing and you just crack on with the rest of your lives. For one thing Harry has retests. When its retest time, well cancer cannot be forgotten, it is staring you in the face; the invasive tests needed to ensure that Harry's body remains clear of cancer. He is doing really well, on fine form, but he seemed to be in August 2011, yet if he'd been scanned then, cancer would have been evident.
Therefore I admit, I get irritated when people assume he is ok, because he is well. We really don't know if those pesky cancer cells are back.
I am not being negative, but realistic. I am being as any other parent would be facing what we have had to and with the knowledge that relapse is high, meaning complacency just isn't an option.
In my heart of hearts I feel Harry is ok, we will celebrate the results and enjoy life, but I do know when the next round of tests are upon us, then all the feelings I have now of uncertainty will return. I guess that is our lives now, enjoying life, but there is a shadow of doubt that creeps in and this will grow at retest time.
I read an article this week about post traumatic syndrome effecting most parents of children with cancet and it went on to describe parents as 'the invisible patient'. I agree with this and whole heartedly feel that parents are left to just cope as best they can and whether they fall apart or not depends firstly on their deposition to life already, their strength of character, their support network and their existing other dependents at time of treatment needing attention too. The list could go on. Some people find an inner strength they never knew they had, others just manage to function on autopilot, not really being able to take in the reality of events.
I would say I am a strong character already, with a reasonable sunny disposition and positivity. I am willing to battle to get the best solution and have done many a time. I hate injustice, but with this will to battle and be the rock, does come exhaustion.
I have enjoyed not being at work recently and having a bit of time to find myself again, find me, not just be the carer. To think about what I want from life, to think about the possibilities out there. To think about where I want my life to go. We will see.
I have a meeting next week with someone from LGI as they are reviewing support provided to parents during treatment. I have emailed some thoughts already and hope I can provide real awareness of how support services could be shaped.
I did have one session of 'life coaching' that uses CBT to underpin its techniques to help you move on and cope with life. I sit on the fence as to how useful it was. Possible it was too early to be of use, Harry had not completed his antibody treatment and so I still had my armour on, ready for battle and so the mask was still there. I wondered whether counselling would be more beneficial than 'life coaching' but to be honest, to tell another stranger our journey again, takes time. With the 'life coaching' lady I got as far as discussing Harry's radiotherapy and she commented that we had been through it, thinking that was it, but I was quick to add, that there was still a lot more of the journey to add - the problems after radiotherapy, the retonoic acid tablets, the antibody treatment and the countless platelet and red blood transfusions that followed!
I think at present to give up 3 hours for the journey and counselling, well I'd rather chill at the gym and have a swim, jucuzzi and sauna. I've been having a couple of free trials at gyms. I tried one yesterday with a lovely swimming pool that is a great price and with no annual tie in I can pay monthly. The swimming pool was quiet and would be great to take Harry to, to get him back into swimming again. So I feel at present, relaxing, exercise, meeting people up and getting involved with trying to improve support for parents is enough for me for now.
It was half term holidays last week and Harry had a great time. On Monday he loved galavanting around the Yorkshire Ice cream parlour with his friends. On Tuesday Harry was so excited! His old nursery, Esscroft in Burley in Wharfdale, put on a party in the afternoon. This was to celebrate the opening of The Pavilion, a new indoor play area and to celebrate Harry finishing treatment. Harry unveiled a plaque dedicated to him, it has a tractor engraved in the stone and the words 'it's all good Harry'. Harry also cut the ribbon to open The Pavilion and declared it open upon doing so. Then there was 3 hours of entertainment from 'Uncle Brian' including a puppet show, Harry had chosen 'the 3 billy goats gruff' as the story; a magic show and a disco. The refreshments were all served from the new kitchen too! Harry and Callum had a fantastic afternoon with their friends. Esscroft is such a fabulous nursery with a family atmosphere, Callum still has 18 months there before school starts for him. The facilities and grounds can't be beaten either!
We headed north on Wednesday, to Scotland and stayed with 2 different sets of friends, the Dransfields first, then The Butlers. We managed to get onto Ayr beach on Thurs, all wrapped up and the boys made a sand road with buckets and spades with their gloves on! There is a brilliant park there too, which entertained the boys for ages!
Mummy had a girls lunch out in Glasgow on Friday, with some shopping too. I even had a make over from the Yves Saint Laurent counter in House of Fraser. I was looking for a new eyeshadow, then next I seemed to be having a full make over. Think the assistant was appalled at my lack of skin care as she asked, "when was the last time I had, had anything done to my face?!". I asked what she meant and she said "any colour matching!" If I hadn't of been so up for the make over I would have walked. She did a good job though, just a shame all the products would wipe my bank account out for the month!
Paul got to have a night out in Glasgow and Hamilton too! So having burnt the candle late into the evenings, the boys ensured we burnt it at the other end too, yep, up at the first sign of dawn; we were ready for our own beds once home and the boys once again in their own rooms, more settled nights were very welcome!
I realise that work looms on the horizon and so with this I need to start getting Harry into school for 9 am. So on Wednesday he went at 9 am. It was brilliant getting both boys out of the house for a decent time, before they could get all the toys out and rearrange the house! More 9 am starts planned for next week!
Today, Harry should have had his bone marrow aspirate, to see if his bone marrow remains clear of cancer cells and a small piece of bone taken out for testing too. However, it's been rescheduled for Monday. The community nurse was organised to come yesterday to take Harry's bloods in preparation for today. I rang the ward at 4 pm yesterday to check where we needed to go for the procedure, no mention of it not happening, until I rang the ward today, to check Harry's blood results, in case any blood products were needed and an earlier time of arrival to be planned. I spoke to the perplexed ward manager who said Harry wasn't on today's list and seemed to act like I should know it was Monday. I wondered if I was going mad for a minute, getting muddled with my dates. However, I pushed the subject and said it was definately scheduled for today, the community nurse had only arranged her visit on Monday for Thurs, at the hospitals request, in prep for today. The ward manager said the list was made yesterday and he's down for Monday. Having got Harry to have his breakfast early in preparation for fasting for the anaesthetic I was furious. I know lists can change, but they could have told us last night. Also they would have had us turning up at LGI if I hadn't phoned, for a wasted journey! Then they really would have had to deal with a melt down! Harry was brilliant though about the
change in plan and went to school mid morning. Wish I could adapt as well as he does. All the feelings of the previous cock ups sprang to mind and I felt the flashbacks start and I couldn't shake myself out of feeling furious, uncared for, just another number in the system!
Well one areas where support can be improved is better communication links! Sometimes it feels there is none and this is an alien word to them! Even Harry said in the car later today that the hospital make it hard for us! He decided that he will become the rule maker and the rules will not be broken!
I will end on a positive though. Harry's NG tube has been getting blocked over the last week. The tubes only have about an 8 week lifespan, So the plan was to get it changed today, however the pressure of another blockage at 3 am last night, whilst Harry's feed was on, caused the tube to become disconnected from its connector, leaving it useless and leaking! Therefore, with Harry's agreement I pulled the tube out. On discussion this morning, he refused to have another put in. He therefore has agreed to take all his medicines orally. He's been building up to doing this,taking 2 orally already, but magnesium doesn't taste nice and thus went down his tube. He managed to take this though, mixed with yoghurt, so this will be our new ritual 3 x day! Well done Harry! His appetite has been increasing and suddenly his drinking is too, not on the red wine like his mum, I hasten to add!
We will monitor his weight to ensure this doesn't drop too much and if it does we will discuss having the NG tube re instated! For now though its bye bye tube and hello handsome Harry, with his head of hair and no tube!