Just one look at her son’s face told Joanne something was wrong
My Daniel, 11, was always so chatty and full of life. He wanted to be a basketball player when he was older and loved football and being outdoors.
And he had the biggest, brightest grin.
But on 18 November last year, Dan walked out of the school gates and I suddenly felt faint.
My boy looked like he’d had a stroke.
His face was all lopsided. ‘Are you OK?’ I asked, putting my arm around him.
He nodded his head, but my motherly instinct told me that something was up. ‘Dan, can you smile?’ I asked. He couldn’t.
Something was wrong.
We drove off to pick his sister Charlotte, 14, up from school.
But I couldn’t help but peer at Dan in the rear-view mirror.
I kept asking him to smile – but he couldn’t make that trademark grin appear.
‘I feel fine, Mum,’ he insisted.
But I drove to my friend’s house to get a second opinion. Was I being paranoid?
She took one look at Dan. ‘Get him checked,’ she said. I rushed him to Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care, where they eventually told me Dan had Bell’s palsy.
It’s a condition that causes
temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face.
‘Most people recover completely within a year,’ a doctor told us.
At least it wasn’t a stroke.
I tried not to worry, but then things started to deteriorate...
Dan was vomiting, he was lethargic, could barely walk.
And he still couldn’t smile.
‘This is not Bell’s palsy,’ I cried to my husband Joe, 52.
At the Royal Victoria Infirmary a week later, the doctor sent Dan for a scan.
And when the results came back...
‘We’ve found a swelling on Dan’s brain,’ the doctor said. A brain tumour.
I couldn’t believe it as I was told he’d need surgery, chemo.
Four days later, I held his hand tightly as he fell asleep under the anaesthetic before surgery to remove the tumour.
Afterwards, Dan was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of brain cancer – a non-hodgkin lymphoma doctors at the hospital had never seen before.
Dan was only the second child in the Northeast to have it in the last 25 years.
The 16th child in the world ever! Devastated, Joe and I gathered the family at the hospital to break the news.
Dan’s siblings Ben, 24, Rochelle, 21, and Charlotte were shocked to see their little brother so poorly.
But I had to keep strong for them.
On 5 December, Dan started his first round of chemotherapy.
‘You’re my little soldier,’ I said as I rocked him in my arms.
But the chemo wasn’t an easy ride.
Dan developed blisters from his mouth to his bottom.
The pain was immense – and, for the first time as a mother, there was nothing I could do. He was on huge doses of morphine and antibiotics. They were the hardest months of our lives. Then, in March, we finally got the news we were praying for. ‘The cancer has gone,’ the doctor told us.
I felt numb. Relieved – but instantly terrified the cancer would come back. Dan endured yet more gruelling chemo – but, in May, he was put into clinical remission. We’re so thankful to the staff at the hospital and all the families we met. ‘Welcome home,’ I grinned as Dan stepped through the front door after six months in hospital. I was thrilled. I knew Dan was happy, too, but his face was expressionless, still unable to crack that beautiful grin.
The cancer had damaged the nerves that control the eyes and mouth. Doctors didn’t know when, or even if, he’d ever get it back. His eyes are still not moving properly and his balance and coordination is dreadful. He can still only manage a few hours of school, as he gets so exhausted.
But, despite all that Dan has been through, he has always kept his brilliant and bubbly personality. He wants to put this all behind him and get back to school fulltime with his friends. He’s such a very brave, happy boy, even if he can’t show it now. And I pray that, one day, we’ll get that smile back.
Dan was vomiting, lethargic, he could barely walk
He’s still bubbly – just can’t show it
My boy’s been so brave
Dan with me, Joe and Charlotte