Though she fought bravely, Han­nah Bryan lost her bat­tle with can­cer at age 15. Her mother tells Joy Or­pen that she and Han­nah’s fam­ily and friends will al­ways strive to im­prove con­di­tions for chil­dren in hos­pi­tal

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - HEALTH CASE STUDY -

It is uni­ver­sally ac­cepted that there is no greater loss than that of a child. So how is a par­ent sup­posed to cope af­ter such a tragedy? Each fam­ily finds their own unique way of deal­ing with calamity. And Han­nah Bryan’s par­ents and sis­ter are no ex­cep­tion.

In 2009, when Han­nah was 13 years old, she was happy at school, she played bas­ket­ball well, and had lots of friends. Fol­low­ing a sum­mer camp, she com­plained of pain in her back and shoul­ders. So when she also be­gan vom­it­ing, San­dra, her mother, took her daugh­ter to A&E, where it was sus­pected she was suf­fer­ing from a sports in­jury. She was given painkillers and sent home. But when, a few weeks later, she was still no bet­ter, her mother took her back to the hos­pi­tal, where again mus­cle strain was di­ag­nosed.

Han­nah had no op­tion but to sol­dier on. How­ever, when Oc­to­ber dawned, she was still in pain, she was hardly eat­ing, and on a par­tic­u­lar Fri­day, she fell while show­er­ing. So she was taken to Our Lady’s Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, Crum­lin. Fol­low­ing tests, doc­tors told San­dra there was a ma­lig­nancy in Han­nah’s body. “I asked them if that meant can­cer, and one of the doc­tors nod­ded ‘yes’. I went numb. I turned to jelly. That was the worst day ever,” says San­dra.

Han­nah was un­der the care of Dr Michael Capra, who re­quested a bone mar­row as­pi­ra­tion, an MRI scan, and a Hick­man line (in­tra­venous line) to be in­serted, to fa­cil­i­tate draw­ing blood and ad­min­is­ter­ing med­i­ca­tions. Dr Capra then broke the news to San­dra, her hus­band Fer­gus, and their other daugh­ter, Stephanie, that they sus­pected Han­nah was suf­fer­ing from an alve­o­lar rhab­domyosar­coma in her spine, that had spread to her bone mar­row. “They told us it was a very rare, ag­gres­sive can­cer and that the chances of Han­nah be­ing cured were low. We just couldn’t com­pre­hend this,” says San­dra. “It was an ab­so­lute night­mare.” Han­nah was taken to Beau­mont Hos­pi­tal for surgery. She was so weak, San­dra was ter­ri­fied that her child would “die there, that night”. A biopsy was done, but sadly they couldn’t re­move the tu­mour, as it was deeply em­bed­ded in Han­nah’s spine. Two days later, Han­nah was taken back to Crum­lin and ad­mit­ted to a small room next to St John’s ward, the haema­tol­ogy and on­col­ogy ward. San­dra says while the staff were just fan­tas­tic, the ward it­self was out­dated. “Han­nah vom­ited a lot be­cause of the chemo, so that de­press­ing en­vi­ron­ment only made it worse. One day she said to me, ‘Please mum, do some­thing about this place, be­cause it’s so aw­ful’.” Stephanie did what­ever she could to make life more bear­able for her much loved, wheel­chair-bound sis­ter. As did her im­me­di­ate and ex­tended fam­ily, and host of loyal friends. That De­cem­ber, Han­nah was told Above, Han­nah (left) with her mum, San­dra, and sis­ter, Stephanie; in­set be­low, Han­nah with her mum, sis­ter, and dad Fer­gus she could spend Christ­mas at home. “Han­nah’s hair was gone and she’d lost so much weight, she was like a child again,” says San­dra. “That Christ­mas was very pre­cious to us all.” How­ever, a few days later, the pun­ish­ing course of treat­ment re­sumed. But in May 2010, Han­nah got the all-clear. “We cried with hap­pi­ness when Michael gave us the news,” says San­dra. “Given the sever­ity of her ill­ness, it was un­be­liev­able.”

Han­nah still needed main­te­nance chemo­ther­apy and a course of ra­dio­ther­apy at St Luke’s Hos­pi­tal. The phys­io­ther­a­pists at Crum­lin had got her back on her feet, and she was be­gin­ning to lead a more nor­mal life at home, although she had to re­turn to Crum­lin on oc­ca­sion, when she got in­fec­tions. “It seemed like it was all be­hind us,” says San­dra.

To mark her 14th birth­day, the Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion gave Han­nah ev­ery teenager’s dream party. Some 300 young peo­ple joined her at Wes­ley Col­lege in Don­ny­brook. “A sil­ver Hum­mer picked her up. She looked like a princess,” says San­dra. “She was done up to the nines; she loved her make-up and her false eye­lashes, which were like sweep­ing brushes. It was so good to see her en­joy­ing her­self.” The fol­low­ing Christ­mas was the Bryan fam­ily’s “best ever”, as Han­nah was do­ing so well.

But trag­i­cally, their sense of eu­pho­ria was short-lived. In March 2011, Han­nah got a pain in her leg, and San­dra knew in­stinc­tively the can­cer was back. Fol­low­ing tests, Dr Capra con­firmed San­dra’s sus­pi­cions. “He brought Han­nah, Fer­gus and me into his of­fice. He said the can­cer was now in her liver and would spread quickly. Through­out those two years of treat­ment, Han­nah had never cried, but now I saw a tear roll down her face. My heart was bro­ken.”

The Bryans man­aged one last treat for their dar­ling girl when they took her to Al­ton Tow­ers theme park in Eng­land. “She went on ev­ery scary ride,” San­dra re­calls. “But we had to go straight to Crum­lin when we got home, as she needed blood trans­fu­sions.”

At this time, Han­nah was filmed for the TV3 show along with two other teenagers, about con­di­tions in St John’s ward. Han­nah said there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do there, and that Stephanie even had to bring in DVDs so that they had some­thing to watch.

In Au­gust 2011, Han­nah de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly, and asked to go home to Killiney. A nurse from Black­rock Hospice came daily to give her mor­phine and anti-nau­sea in­jec­tions. Then one day Han­nah asked if she was go­ing to die — and San­dra replied hon­estly, “Yes,

The Ap­pren­tice,

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