Sam Blair was two years old when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Sam’s dad Simon tells their story.
"As a child, Sam was quite often ill and we were regular visitors to the local doctors surgery.
But after regular treatments of antibiotics for chest, throat and ear infections, we insisted on blood tests. My wife Amanda is medically trained and wasn’t happy it was just everyday childhood infections. Sam was very lethargic and appeared to suffer from excessive bruising, both signs of leukaemia that Amanda recognised.
Our worst fears came true in April 2000 when, the day after Sam visited the doctors for blood tests, we got the call for us BOTH to see the doctor. That afternoon appointment changed our lives and turned things upside down.
Treatment began within days
Being told to pack a bag for a few days, we were sent to Leicester Royal Infirmary. When walking into ward 27, little did we know it would be our permanent home for three weeks and our second home for the following three years.
Within hours Sam was having tests and the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) was confirmed. Within days he had surgery to have a Hickman line fitted, had a blood transfusion and he started chemotherapy.
Read more: Commonly used terms in treatment | Side-effects of treatment
Emily was a real life saver
These difficult times brought along with it different challenges. Amanda was pregnant with our daughter, Emily, and on one occasion was rushed from Sam's ward to the maternity ward due to concern for the pregnancy.
On top of this, some results on tests for Emily meant we had to make regular trips for scans to ensure she was developing OK. Thankfully everything turned out well.
Emily was a real life saver, bringing happiness to an otherwise difficult, sad time. She has made us laugh ever since she came into the world and helped us stay together as a family - something that was not always the case on the ward.
Difficult years of treatment
After some time on the ward and getting to know all the staff, we were told that we were lucky to have Sam. Had we not acted when we did, he wouldn't be here.
The sick feeling we got when we heard those frightening words raised its ugly head again during year 2 of Sam’s treatment. Sam spent 4 days in intensive care under constant supervision. He was unable to shake of a raging temperature of 40+ degrees and was extremely ill.
Thankfully, again, he managed to pull through this. Unfortunately, we were to go through this again. When spending some luxury time at home, he spiked another temperature and we spent a number of days in Kettering General Hospital. We also spent time in quarantine and isolation from the ward when Sam contracted chicken pox, a potential killer for leukaemia sufferers.
Time at home became so important
Time at home was a complete luxury and I remember on many an occasion begging for us to be allowed time out of the ward with Sam - even if it was to pop to the park across the road from the hospital for an hour!!
Once the first year of intensive treatment was over, we did get more opportunity to spend time at home, only aided by the community nurses plus Amanda and I training to administer treatment ourselves.
Sam is now a healthy teenager
Some very difficult situations also arose on the ward. The unfortunate loss of life for a number of patients we knew well. These losses added pressure of the unknown - whether Sam would make it. We are so very thankful he did, as well as so sorry for the parents that lost a child.
After spending all that time in and out of hospital over the years, Sam is now a healthy 13 year old. He has annual check ups at Leicester Royal Infirmary to make sure everything is going well. He also has separate heart checks every 18 months at Glenfield Hospital as he has an enlarged ventricle they are keeping an eye on.
Although we know Sam shows no sign of relapse, these appointments are still difficult to attend emotionally and can throw up some bad memories.
Sam doesn't remember many things from his early days in hospital. But he did tell me the other day he remembered being held down by me so he could have a vital injection – an injection he had to have in alternate legs every day for eight days. Sam finished his treatment in 2003.
Supporting Children with Cancer UK
Both Amanda and I ran the Virgin London Marathon for this charity because we know just how important the research is that they fund. We continue to support Children with Cancer UK and ask anyone reading this to do the same."
Heart problems are an unfortunate side-effect of some treatments for childhood cancer. As more and more children are now surviving cancer, treatment toxicity is becoming an increasingly important consideration. A major focus of the research we fund is on developing treatments that carry less risk of harm.
Read more: About childhood cancer | Treating childhood cancers
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