Abnormalities in Charlotte’s blood
Friday 11 August 2006 is a day that will stick in my mind forever. Charlotte, then 13, went to the GP for a full blood test as she had been unwell for about the past two to three weeks.
It was quite a normal Friday, until the consultant haematologist rang and said there were abnormalities in Charlotte’s blood and could we take her straight down to East Surrey hospital. We were there within the half hour and Charlotte was examined by a doctor and asked loads of questions etc. She had yet more blood taken and then, at 10.30, we heard the awful words that no parent ever wants to hear.
We were taken into a small, unventilated, windowless room and asked to sit down. That sinking feeling filled me. I knew we were to be told bad news. ‘Charlotte is very poorly and has childhood leukaemia’ are about the only words I remember hearing. Obviously we did ask some questions – the normal ones. ‘Will my child get better?’ etc. But it was difficult to focus on anything. Questions like ‘Why Charlotte?’, ‘Why my child?’ were all that occupied my very muddled mind. The time came for us to go back to see Charlotte, who we had left with our older daughter Harriet (15). They both knew something was seriously wrong – we had been gone ages and came back very red eyed.
The Doctor and nurse were both extremely kind and sensitive. They sat down to tell Charlotte what was the matter. Lots of tears followed. The word cancer hits you in the stomach like a brick. We were told that she needed to be treated in a specialist cancer hospital and would be transferred to The Royal Marsden. That night Charlotte was given a platelet transfusion and blood. We did not get a lot of sleep that night – just lots more tears.
Less than 24 hours since Charlotte had had the initial blood test, she was in an ambulance going up to The Royal Marsden – blue light flashing. She was diagnosed later that day with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
Charlotte is determined that life goes on as normal
The hardest thing to comprehend at the time was that she had been a normal teenager the day before. She is a very sporty girl and is in all the school teams and plays football for a local league team. Now here she was wired up to drips and fighting for her life. Her words to one of the doctors that first day at the Marsden were very poignant: “I am now running the race of my life, and I will win.” What fighting talk that was and that is how she has handled each day since. She insisted our family life must continue as normal, or “we would be giving in to cancer”.
Charlotte is so determined that life goes on as normal. Even when her mouth is so full of ulcers and she can hardy swallow, she still gets up and, as she says, fights the cancer. She has suffered from terrible muscle and leg pain from the intensive chemo drugs. And, as a teenager, one of the hardest things for her to come to terms with was losing her hair twice. But she has never given in and drags herself to school so she is not giving in to the cancer. She has even completed three GCSE exams a year early.
Charlotte truly is an inspiration to all and her grit and determination get her through each day. Yes, she does have some down moments, but these are short lived and she is determined that she will live life to the full each day. We have all learnt a new language of blood terminology and drug names, but the support we have had from family, friends and the medical profession has been brilliant in getting us through each day. Charlotte’s school has been so supportive to both her and her sister. It seems a long time since that dark August night – but we are hopeful of the day, this November, when she will have beaten her leukaemia.
Charlotte is now 15. We are truly thankful to the support we have been given. If Charlotte’s story can be an inspiration to others, we feel we will have helped. ‘Beating it’ is how Charlotte ends each day – a remarkable girl. I know I am biased as her mother, but she truly is an inspiration.
An update from Charlotte in 2013
A year after the all clear I was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis (AVN), a bone condition, which was a result of the steroids that I took during my treatment. This has since caused more pain and lead to more operations, resulting in broken bones.
However, this still has not changed me as a person. I play for my university netball team and competed in the university championships. Now at 20, having had cancer and living with AVN, my whole outlook on life has changed. Since the day I was diagnosed I have not given in and lived as normal a life as possible. I know it’s a cliché but it really does make you treat every day as if it’s your last and live life to the full. I have even been skiing with a lot of metal work in my leg and weak bones but came back in one piece, much to my parents’ relief!
I am now finishing my second year at university and doing a year in industry for IBM next year. Looking back on my 13-year-old self I am so pleased of my determined nature and drive to succeed as I wouldn’t be where I am now and I can officially say I beat cancer.
Charlotte, now 23
It is now 10 years on since the initial diagnoses – I am 23 and doing really well. I still have problems with my bones and have aches and pains. But despite this I completed the London Marathon for Children with Cancer UK with my sister last year! I graduated from university and am now in a graduate job with IBM. I have also recently moved in with my boyfriend.
August 11 2006 seems a very long time ago now, but it’s a day my family and I will never forget. And we all still celebrate November 11, every year, as the day I got the all-clear from cancer.
Update November 2018: 10 years all clear
It’s now 12 years since being diagnosed and that day in August seems a long time ago but I can still remember it extremely clearly. I still have my bone problems however my out look in life still hasn’t changed. Just last year I cycled London to Paris with my dad to raise money for Children with Cancer UK which was an incredible experience.
I am now working at Google and I recently brought a house with my boyfriend, which we spent the last 6 month refurbishing. Every year I still celebrate getting the all clear and this November makes 10 years. To celebrate this milestone my family and I decided to hold a party and raise lots of money for charity. The evening was a great success raising lots of money with family, friends and even doctors and nurses attending who looked after me. I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support they have shown me over the last 12 years in my cancer journey.
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