I couldn’t tell him he was dying
Susan Malik tells why she’s kept a devastating secret from her three sons
Watching my triplets, Bailey, Heston, and Sumner, racing around a squash court never fails to bring a smile to my face. an obsession with the sport is one of the many things my 11-year-olds share – along with a love of superheroes and an insatiable appetite. But while they’re so similar, there’s a tragic difference that sets my boys apart. Sumner has an inoperable brain tumour. and, while the boys are so close, I’ll never reveal his fate to him, or his brothers…
I can vividly remember the moment at my 12-week scan when the doctor told me I was having triplets. It was such a shock – triplets didn’t run in my family, nor my husband Camron’s, and we already had three children, Curtis, then six, Perry, four, and Torrie, one.
Still, I couldn’t have felt happier. I had a C-section in January 2006 – and suddenly our family of five grew to eight. Bailey was born first, followed by Heston, then Sumner – each a few minutes apart.
From the moment they were born it was clear they shared that triplet bond I’d read so much about – they babbled in their own language, and if one started crying, I knew it was only a matter of time before the others joined in! At Christmas time, we dressed them up in matching Santa hats as they smiled for photos.
And, as the boys got older, whether they were racing around on bikes, playing squash, or acting out scenes from Superman in the garden, as long as they were together, they were happy.
But in July 2016, Sumner, then 10, began complaining of headaches. At first, I wondered if he might need glasses, and made a mental note to take him to the opticians. But just weeks later, during a family holiday to Spain, he struggled to swallow his food and a day swimming in the sea with Bailey and Heston would leave him exhausted.
Back home, we took Sumner to the GP, who prescribed anti-sickness tablets and told us to wait for a referral to the paediatric ward at our local hospital. But in the days that followed, Sumner only got worse – he was being sick and started dribbling. We went back to hospital and this time he was admitted. Camron took time off from his sales job to stay with Sumner, while I was back at home looking after the other children. It was three days later, when my mobile rang. I could tell from the way Camron’s voice shook that something was terribly wrong. Then he took a deep breath and said the words that still haunt me to this day, ‘Sumner has a brain tumour – it’s cancer.’
The horror in that moment was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Camron explained that the tumour, called a DIPG, was fast-growing and life
‘we wanted to keep life normal’
expectancy was nine months. Sumner would be given radiotherapy in an attempt to prolong his life, but there was no cure.
I sat in silence, grasping the phone. It would be Christmas soon, then the boys’ 11th birthday. Sumner was due to compete in a squash tournament and I knew how excited he was to start high school the following year. As reality began to sink in, my cries filled the room. How could I be parted from my son? I thought of Bailey and Heston, who had been so worried about their brother – the missing member of their special team. They’d never cope without him.
And, as quickly as that thought came to me, so did another – I knew we could never reveal Sumner’s prognosis to him or his brothers. So, by the time Camron and I hung up, we had a plan. We’d tell the older children the truth, but we didn’t want Sumner to know he was dying – to think there was no hope – and we wanted Heston and Bailey to enjoy the time they had left with him. I know some might think our decision strange but we wanted to keep our life normal – and happy – for as long as possible.
So, after drying my tears, I sat the boys down and told them Sumner had a poorly head and we needed to take extra care of him. Of course, they believed every word I said, and why wouldn’t they? I’d never lied to them before.
Sumner came home – only returning to the hospital once a week for radiotherapy – and while I forced a smile and an upbeat attitude in front of the boys, at night, when I looked at Camron, I’d see my own pain reflected in his eyes.
In December 2016, I went shopping for Christmas presents – Sumner wanted colouring pens and pyjamas – but as I paid for the gifts, my hands shook. Would he ever unwrap them? While Sumner was there, thankfully, to see what Santa had left on Christmas morning, his health was getting worse. His speech began to slur and he developed a limp – but still, when he asked me if he’d get better, I’d nod and smile.
A lasting bond
Life felt hopeless, but then in January 2017, Camron showed me an article he had found online. He’d been researching brain tumours and came across a new drug trial. It was invasive and complex, but desperate for anything to help our boy, we contacted the oncologist leading the trial.
A week later, we were overjoyed when Sumner was accepted – but it came with an £86,000 price tag, followed by monthly payments of £6,000. So, we set up fundraising pages and social media accounts in the hope of raising funds. The donations came in quickly. Sumner began his treatment and by July 2017 his tumour had shown signs of shrinking. It was wonderful news – but his future is still so uncertain. We have no idea if the treatment will keep working – and we need to continue to raise funds for each session.
Every time Sumner goes to hospital, I try to remain positive. He is fed up with being poorly, but he thinks that, one day, he’ll start feeling better. I’m convinced it’s because of this that he still plays squash with his brothers – even if it is just for a few minutes at a time – and wakes up every morning with a smile on his face. He is so optimistic, and I want to keep it that way.
It’s true that a brain tumour might, one day, tear Sumner away from his beloved brothers. But nothing will break their bond – that’s one thing I’m certain of. ✱ To donate towards Sumner’s treatment, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ sunshine4sumnerimuno
like peas in a pod, Sumner, Heston and Bailey (main picture) have grown up fast
Sumner’s treatment is showing positive signs