Last week, I sat in a stuffy assembly hall and watched 150 students cross the stage and receive Year 10 Certificates. Applause was held ’til the end, but that policy came undone when my daughter’s best friend Neala was announced and the audience couldn’t contain itself.
Rewind seven months, and Neala’s dad and her older sister came to our door and said: ‘Neala was diagnosed today with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.’
I looked at him.
I looked at his elder daughter.
I looked at my baby. (In my mind, in that moment, she became that tiny bundle in a quadruple zero onesie, who I hadn’t pictured dealing with this kind of news fifteen years ago in the maternity ward.)
Inwardly I crumbled for them all, but attempted to maintain some semblance of ‘adult’.
This can’t be happening.
All three of them appeared remarkably ‘together’ under the circumstances. We hugged, and said goodnight. I shut the door, and turned to my daughter, in a way that I’d never had to turn to her before, except when she was six, and her dad and I sat her down and told her we were separating.
‘Darling, I’m so sorry…’
That’s the last night I saw her as a child.
She (and all of them) stepped over a threshold. Within days she was a full bottle on blood levels and treatment options and was relating conversations she’d had with the oncologist and the nurses about Neala’s levels and chemo and prognosis. We later found out that, without treatment, Neala had been given one week.