I am a 43-year-old mother of four boys; Henry, Angus, Noah and Darcy.
A lot of people struggle to remember which one is which – including me at times. It’s helpful that the first initial of their names spell HAND.
The boys are all active, noisy and messy. They are very different to each other, but they get along well. My husband Steve and I have managed to work while supporting their education and far too many extra-curricular activities each school term. I think it would be fair to say that we are never bored.
However, in 2013 we would have wished for boredom. Our second son Angus, or the A in HAND, showed me some lumps in his neck.
He was nine-years-old at the time. Worried, like all mothers would be, we went straight to our family GP who arranged blood tests. The tests were completely normal, and Angus was really well, he had heaps of energy, and was playing footy. Our GP thought it likely that he had some viral exposure.
She said those lumps should go down, and to come back if they don’t.
But, those lumps were persistent little buggers. So back we went. More blood tests – still normal. An ultra-sound – inconclusive. Angus was referred to the Kids Hospital at Randwick to have one of the nodes removed. We were assured it was “probably nothing” and it was just cautionary.
I can replay that day in my head like a movie, and I probably will for the rest of my life. The surgeon smiled at us as she came into the clinic. Steve and I looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief. We were deceived by the belief a smile meant we were fine. That smile signalled our lives would change forever.
Angus was diagnosed with Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma – nodular sclerosing type. Soon after, the surgeon introduced us to Paediatric Oncologist Toby Trahair – a man we have, unfortunately or not, come to know very, very well.
At this stage, I wasn’t actually sure if lymphoma meant cancer. Judging from the ghost-like face of my husband I thought it must be, and my heart collapsed when I saw Angus, our most engaged, inquisitive child, completely distracted and unaware.
Toby said some important things to us that day. He told us that Angus' cancer was treatable - and that cure was achievable. As we were driving home, trying to work out what to do next, Steve and I both reflected on being parents who were given a different message. Imagine incurable, not treatable. That was unthinkable.
I went home, called my dearest friends and family, and got on with it.
The next 10 weeks were a blur, we went back to work. At that time, I was a part-time lawyer in a commercial firm in Sydney, and Steve a self-employed physiotherapist. The boys went back to school and I naively believed we could continue as normal. This was before I knew what a round of chemotherapy would be like.
For Angus' first oncology appointment I phoned into the consultation from work. Steve was with him when Toby outlined the treatment. It was terrifying. I managed to lose all of the work I did that day - didn't save a thing. Knowing I couldn't be absent any more I asked my boss for six months leave without pay.
The next few months was a montage of chemotherapy cocktails, and friends and family caring for our other boys while we spent endless nights in the hospital with four other kids and their parents.
It was a club none of us wished to be a part of, but at least we didn't feel alone.