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Christopher reflects on his childhood's dark days

Diagnosed at a very young age

Though not a condition or life obstacle I was born with, the shadow of cancer has been ever present for as long as I can remember. The symptoms that my parents noticed were that I was always lethargic and that I needed carrying everywhere. I also always complained of having sore legs and this led them to me getting checked at the doctors and later being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at only four years old, the procedural treatments that coincided at the time are all I knew and growing up obliviously accepted through my young innocence. I had no control over the diagnosis, it was an unwelcome bump if not a collapsed hole into the abyss in the road of life, and through being a child I had no input towards choices or the decision making that followed.

And to say it bluntly, the control of parenthood was completely pulled out of my mother’s (Michelle) and father’s (Paul) reach. It must have been such an agonisingly heart stopping moment for the two of them. Nature (the parent nurturing and protecting their child, their baby) had been put aside for the unfortunate, the careless, the narrow-minded (the diagnosis). Though not physically, it was them that mentally felt the brunt of the overall pain.

I believe that any parent reading this would agree.

two boys looking at comera with christopher wearing yellow jacket and the other boy is wearing white hoodie

My parents watched as their son changed

Leading up to the dreaded ‘C word’ declaration by the consultant, it was them, mum and dad, that witnessed their son drained of energy and with sore legs, unable to walk. It was them that saw their son transition from a healthy pink to transparent white. It was them that saw their son lose clumps of hair down the sink during bath time.

All of that concern and worry of the unknown is neither a position I would want nor see anyone else carry tirelessly on their shoulders. And though the official diagnosis that the cancer type was that of leukaemia, a confirmation that should have reassured the pair to what direct treatment was needed, life was never that simple. It was simply the start of further distress for the two of them. Not overlooking the repercussions towards my older sister (Carol-Anne), grandparents, aunts and uncles and all family involved. Each of their lives too removed of any normality.

Many memories shared to this day are of the trauma endured during the hospital stay. For all of us they range vividly from me being ported in and out of the operating theatre, accepting chemotherapy and the ever changing appetites and appearances, blood transfusions and fluid drips and not forgetting living on the ward more than at home. There were then the constant screams, tears and discomforts, injections, improvements and declines, hopes and disappointments.

christopher with his dad looking a a pair of socks at christmas

My disrupted childhood

For I, memories persist of not having all loved ones around me at once and instead seeing them in drips and drabs as visitors. Then flashbacks of the nightly nurse checks and their torches, being on ward at Christmas time, in and out of bays and side rooms, witnessing at such a young age other children battling for their lives.

The family’s experiences beyond my own were living in and out of bags and hospital accommodations, sleeping with one eye open in the expectance of an emergency, waiting rooms and one to ones with the doctor or nurse, no consistency at work nor holding friendships and in my sisters’ case having to see less of our own parents and living with the grandparents.

When at home (on the rare occasion) obstacles still seemed to follow me. I wore a hat in school to cover the baldness, extra layered clothing as I felt the cold, constant bruising, devoured two lunches due to the side effects of chemotherapy, being unable to make friends as I was never in class consistently, and looking and feeling and being treat differently than all my peers. As they years went by, the side effects aftermath of chemotherapy, I later had medical health issues with teeth growth and strength. Though not a direct side effect, complications with suspected cancer later in life led to tonsil removal and two growths from my chest. Both were benign however.

I know this projects a long list of dark days, plenty of good did come along to play too. Especially in the case of the bonds with other patients and their families, supporting and encouraging one another with words, comforts, laughs and smiles through the most painful of times.

I wore a hat in school to cover the baldness, extra layered clothing as I felt the cold.

Keep strong and keep hope

During all of this it was hard to say expect light to appear. It was and still is something that impacts all of our joined and separate lives, there is no getting away from that. And though those bumps have continued to appear at times since, I have managed to remain around family, create lifelong friendships, experience graduations and careers and now enter my 30s.

For many this awful (and it is awful) journey has just begun or continues, and for you that light feels so distant if not a dream. But keep strong and keep hope and always accept help.

May 2021

black and white photo of christopher as an adult

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