Cassie's family is hoping for a miracle...
Us mums can pick up on the tiniest of changes in our kids, can’t we? We’re the first to spot if they’re unhappy, or a little bit under the weather.
Watching my son Cameron, then 11, rip open his Christmas presents last December, I noticed he was squinting. Odd, I thought. As he chatted away with his sisters Courtney, 3, and Chloe, 9, I couldn't stop looking at it.
‘Are you OK, love?’ I asked him.
He’d had the odd headache of late, too.
Pulling a face, he told me to stop worrying.
So, as he seemed fine, I forgot about it.
His dad Harold, 33, has a slight squint, so I just put it down to inherited genes.
But, in the following January, he started to complain of double vision.
Then, his balance was unstable, speech slurred. Something wasn’t right. On 27 January, I took Cameron to the GP.
After examining his eyes, the doctor paused, frowning.
Ringing the hospital, he then described the symptoms.
‘I’m referring you for tests,’ he told us.
After numerous blood and balance tests, the doctor at Craigavon Hospital said they wanted to do a CT scan. My husband David, 34, and Cameron’s dad Harold joined us at the hospital.
Three hours dragged as we awaited the results of the scan. ‘What if he loses his sight?’ I fretted, unsure what all the scans were about. Taking us to a different room to Cameron, three doctors surrounded us. ‘I’m so sorry,’ one said to us. ‘I’m afraid we’ve found a mass on Cameron’s brain. It’s a tumour.’
They diagnosed him with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) brain tumour.
Harold burst in tears, but I wanted to know more.
‘So, what are you going to do to fix him then?’ I asked. ‘I’m sorry but it’s inoperable,’ the doctor added.
Our whole world fell apart. Uncontrollable sobs erupted from deep inside me.
‘He could have between nine and 12 months to live,’ they explained gently.
My beautiful boy. My eldest. The first of my babies that I held in my arms. Was it really true that we’d just celebrated our last family Christmas all together? Pulling ourselves together to face Cameron, I couldn’t bear telling him everything. ‘The doctors have found something on your brain, but we are going to fix it, and we will always
look after you,’ I said, holding him closely to me.
I never wanted to let go. Cameron stayed in hospital over the weekend so he could be monitored, but he was discharged after a few days.
Taking a week off school after, soon he was back playing footy, in lessons and spending time with his friends.
It was just like nothing bad had happened at all.
Only, he was far from fine.
At the end of January, Cameron started radiotherapy.
His body reacted well, and he didn’t suffer any side effects.
His squint disappeared for a while, too, and he seemed to be better than ever.
In March, the arrival of my third daughter, Caitlin, brought us some relief from the awful situation.
Over time, Cameron found out more about his condition, though.
‘I have cancer, don’t I?’ he asked me one day.
‘Yes,’ I replied, because I’d never lie to him.
The more he asked about it, the more
I had to reveal.
Researching online for any possible treatment, I found the Instituto de Oncologia Intervencionista, in Mexico.
A specialist cancer centre, it is one of the only places in the world that is showing improvements in treating DIPG cancer.
Its results were amazing. ‘I’ve got to take him there,’ I told David and Harold.
Contacting the centre, it accepted Cameron as a patient.
But a miracle cure on the other side of the world was never going to be cheap.
It’d cost £25,000 for each round of treatment, and we already knew that Cameron would need more than one.
We shared Cameron’s story far and wide through a Justgiving page, and the donations then poured in.
Generous strangers, friends and family helped raise the cash.
But Cameron’s health was deteriorating.
Soon, he wasn’t able to run around and play with his friends any more.
That squint we now all feared came back.
Time was of the essence. On 20 September, having raised a massive £60,000, we flew out to Mexico.
Brave Cameron was so poorly on the plane.
An ambulance collected us from the airport.
After two days of rehydration and recuperation, Cameron had his first round of chemotherapy, which was followed by immunotherapy.
‘The tumour’s shrunk,’ the specialist announced after the first scan following treatment.
It was the news we’d been longing to hear.
Only, they found another lesion on Cameron’s brain.
However, confident they can treat it, too, we’re still in Mexico now, waiting for the fourth round of therapy.
Friends and family are still fundraising like crazy at home.
But it’s working. Cameron’s doing so well here. And the tumour’s shrinking.
The therapies have made him very sick, though, and he often finds everything completely overwhelming.
Sometimes, he just wants to go back home.
We’ll be here until 18 December, just a few days before Christmas.
With the enormous expense of the treatment, we know we won’t have much in terms of presents this year.
But seeing Cameron enjoying another Christmas is all we really want.
The squint was a symptom of his cancer Soon he wasn’t able to run or play with his friends
Us last Xmas – then everything changed...
Cameron is being so very brave
Cassie Finnegan, 29, Waringstown, County Down