Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – Harrison’s Story

Harrison’s story as told by mum Tash;

Harrison was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Thursday 2 January 2020, he was 5 years old. Harrison had tumours on his liver, spleen, both kidneys and his adrenal gland.

Harrison was a normal energetic cheeky 5-year-old boy, he was excited to be in year 1 and was smashing it. On 17th November he started to complain of stomach pain on his way to school, this continued and we thought it was due to anxiety, Harrison was very shy and a speech delay had made him self-conscious.

We spoke with his teacher and asked her to keep an eye on him and let us know if there were any problems. Following our chat, we had a few calls to collect Harrison from school as he was complaining of feeling tired and unwell. We put this down to winter time and there being a lot of bugs going around school.

Things seemed to settle and Harrison only complained of his symptoms every now and then, but he seemed more tired and never complained when it was bed time.

When he broke up for the Christmas holidays Harrison’s teacher mentioned to us that he was very sleepy in class, and she wanted to refer him for an assessment for learning difficulties. We agreed to this thinking that this could be the cause of his lack of attention and his anxiety.

After tea on 19th December Harrison was very sick, despite having only eaten a very small amount, we put him into bed thinking he had a stomach bug. If only we knew what we know now. This continued for a few days, Harrison would be sick, then carry on with what he was doing.

We were becoming concerned so took Harrison to the doctors where he was diagnosed with a stomach bug.

However, the pains worsened but Harrison remained active. On Christmas day when he was opening his presents, he fell asleep mid present opening, and this rang alarm bells for us and we got him the first doctor’s appointment after boxing day.

We were told by a doctor that Harrison was constipated (diagnosed without any examination being carried out) we were given medication and told to stop worrying!

As parents we wish we had listened to our instincts and taken him to A&E but we trusted the doctors advise and kept him at home.

Harrison’s symptoms worsened, he slept more and more, staying in bed all new year’s eve and new years day. We went on a family walk but Harrison was unable to walk even 10 steps.

I took him back to the doctors on the 2nd and pleaded with them to listen to me, Harrison’s stomach was swollen and he had lost an awful lot of weight. The doctor agreed to send us up to Blackburn Hospital for bloods and an assessment, telling me not to worry, he probably had a bug that was lasting longer than it should!

Harrison had bloods taken, I will never forget the weak scream he made – it broke my heart.

The doctors came and began measuring Harrison’s stomach and liver, no one told me anything at all during this time. We saw 5 different doctors and consultants in the space of a few hours, and then we were sent for scans. Harrison’s dad was at work as no one seemed to be too worried.

Shortly afterwards we were moved to a side room and doctors inserted a canula into Harrison, the doctors began asking when his dad would be here but they never said why.

When Harrison’s dad arrived, immediately 5 people walked into the room with chairs, and sat around us. The consultant began telling me his white blood count was high and his haemoglobin and platelets were low, and then said ‘Harrison has cancer’. He told us we were being blue lighted to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and a consultant would see us there. We had nothing with us at all, not even a phone charger.

When they left the room, we burst into tears and Harrison told us “mummy, daddy, don’t worry I will get better”.

We rang and told family the devastating news and then we left.

The following days were a blur, Harrison was in kidney failure and was too unwell to have a Hickman line fitted and start treatment.

One night he had a traumatic 5-hour nose bleed where he needed blood transfusions. The consultants argued over the best care and right balance to help Harrison survive. They agreed he needed surgery to fit his line before he got any worse and time runs out.

Harrison ended up in ICU on a ventilator after his surgery due to complications. It was absolutely terrifying but luckily, he recovered quickly due to the rest his body had been given.

Harrison started treatment for his cancer when we moved back onto Ward 84, he felt rubbish due to the chemotherapy.

Family came and brought us bits from home but we had no home comforts at all.

Early on a nurse handed us a large blue bag, I was confused but she explained that it was from a charity who provides them for children who are on the ward.

We sat down and opened it up. It was beautiful and colourful and had everything we needed, including toiletries which we didn’t have, we had been borrowing little sachets from the ward to wash.

One thing that stood out for me was the note pad and pen, I was able to make notes especially when we were given the formal diagnosis for Harrison, my mind struggled to retain all the information, so this helped a lot.

Harrison’s favourite was the rainbow blanket and rainbow elephant, he cuddled these every day.

Harrison smiled for the first time in days when we received the bag, it made him feel special. I cried at this and felt like we were not alone.

The bag made such a difference, we stored important things in the bag whilst Harrison was an inpatient for 6 months and now we use it to store the memories of Harrison’s treatment so that they are safe.

Harrison went through months of gruelling treatment, surgeries, infection after infection, and all of this happened as Covid hit. His dad was not allowed to stay with us on the ward, and yet Harrison managed to smile and make us smile too. We are so proud of him.

Harrison rang the end of treatment bell on 19th November 2020. He still has regular check-ups but he is doing amazing.

As a family we will never forget these days and we now see life as before and after diagnosis, and for us life will never be the same. We will always worry about Harrison, and we know how lucky we are to have our cheeky happy, amazing little boy with us.

My advice would be to always listen to your gut, and follow your instincts, there is no harm in getting further advise.

Thank you to Milly’s Smiles for the amazing bag and making us not feel along at this awful time.

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