‘Kiss your son goodbye’
All could do was tell my little lad that I loved him...
It tore me apart that I couldn’t ease his pain
Rolling onto his front and placing his tiny, chubby fists on the floor, my baby Ted beamed.
‘Such a clever boy!’ I cooed, clapping as he tried to push himself up.
At just 5 months old, in January 2008, Ted’s development was flying.
Hitting milestones faster than his siblings – Ethan, then 9, and Olivia, then 3 – ever had.
Me and his dad John, 42, knew Ted would be a superstar.
But, recently, he’d had trouble with an ear infection.
The GP prescribed antibiotics, but a month later Ted screamed endlessly. Crying for 16 hours a day. I was at my wits’ end. And after six months, I noticed a change in Ted...
No crawling or pulling himself up onto the sofa.
‘I think something is really wrong,’ I told the doctor. ‘It’ll pass,’ he reassured. I was sent home with antibiotics yet again.
As Ted’s screams rattled around the house, my mother’s instinct turned my stomach into a pit of worry.
I know my son.
Desperate for answers, I took him to another GP.
Examining Ted’s tiny body, the doctor looked alarmed.
‘His liver is enlarged and his heart is beating a lot faster than it should be,’ she said.
Ted was sent for blood tests – and two hours later, the phone rang. Someone from the hospital. ‘You need to bring Ted in right now,’ she said.
John and I rushed there with him.
‘I’m so sorry, but Ted has cancer,’ the doctor revealed. ‘Are you sure?’ I gasped. He nodded. Ted had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and just a 20-50 per cent chance of survival.
Glancing at Ted’s little face, so innocent, I broke down.
He started chemotherapy straight away at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and we juggled being with him and Ethan and Olivia.
Olivia was too young to understand what was going on.
But when we told Ethan that his baby brother was ill, he started to draw a picture.
A green and blue planet, with dozens of stars in the sky above it.
‘We’re all on the world and Ted’s going to be in the stars when he dies,’ he said.
Goosebumps raced up and down my arms.
The chemo took its toll and Ted lost weight, was often sick. His sparkle faded and he was lethargic, clingy.
Sometimes, nothing I did brought him comfort.
It tore me apart that I couldn’t ease his pain.
In and out of hospital, Ted was barely at home.
When he was 18 months old, I fell pregnant.
With everything that had been going on, it was the last thing we’d expected.
Desperate for some family time, we set off with Ted and the kids to Barrow-in-furness, for a visit to their granny.
A quick escape for some fresh air.
But as we drove, Ted was violently sick, again and again.
At the local hospital, he was diagnosed with E.coli in his bladder.
Hasn’t he been through enough?
We rushed back to Great Ormond Street, where Ted was admitted to the cancer ward.
In the middle of the night, he let out a blood-curdling scream, turned blue in the face and began convulsing.
‘What’s happening?’ I cried.
The doctor’s face was grave.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s possible he may not make it. Please say your goodbyes.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Is this really happening?
Kissing Ted’s tiny head, I stroked his hand, saying the words that punched a hole through my chest.
‘Goodbye, baby, I love you,’ I whispered...
Luckily, the doctors managed to stabilise him.
It turned out the infection had pushed his weakened immune system to the brink.
‘We were so close to losing him,’ I sobbed to John.
‘I know,’ he said, eyes wide. A miracle.
Months of chemotherapy then followed. It was relentless. When baby Eleanor arrived in November 2009, our lives were torn between the hospital and home.
And when Ted was finally discharged, life was anything but normal.
His battered immune system meant that he was always ill. A cold floored him for weeks, he suffered from chronic fatigue, and he often had to use a wheelchair. Ted’s childhood had been torn apart by cancer. Sometimes I wondered if things would ever get better. But, in March 2015, we got the all-clear. Ted was finally in remission! Staff handed Ted a little plastic medal for being so brave. ‘Thank you,’ he beamed. It was a sweet gesture. My mind drifted back to that awful night, when I’d kissed my baby goodbye. I never thought this day would finally arrive. But looking at the medal later, so flimsy and dull, it just didn’t seem fitting. Ted had waged a massive battle against cancer…and won! He deserved so much more. Researching online, I found an American organisation that provides beads and arty fun for kids battling cancer, while also supporting their families. I contacted the organisers – and, together with another parent Diane Watt, we set about bringing it to the UK. It took time, but Beads of Courage UK is now a registered charity, open in every Oncology unit in the country. It means kids aren’t going to hospital solely for chemo or needles. They can have some fun, too. A ray of sunshine in what can feel like an overwhelming abyss. Now Ted is 11 and thriving. He loves football, Liverpool FC, hanging out with his friends. Just like any other child his age. You’d never know he was once a cancer patient, fighting for his life.
Looking back, I’m so grateful that I followed my instincts. Fought for a diagnosis. Now Ted’s an ambassador for the charity, wants to give back. He says, ‘There are kids unluckier than me.’
Despite missing almost every day of Reception, Ted’s now thriving at secondary school.
Obsessed with space and the planets, he begged us for a telescope at Christmas.
Of course, we said yes. Ted deserves the world.
Looking out at the stars, I am grateful every day that he’s not one of them, like Ethan had predicted.
He’s right here, where he should be.
You’d never know he was once fighting for his life
Little Ted with his dad and me
Ted with the beads that chart his road to recovery
Football crazy and raising awareness
Ted, now 11 and thriving, with his dad