When brave teenager Ciara was diagnosed with leukaemia last April it was the third time in three years that her family had been hit by cancer.
Ciara’s grandfather sadly passed away in the Spring of 2013 following his battle with cancer and just a year later Ciara’s mother Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Helen’s treatment was successful but just as she went into remission the family were hit with another bombshell. Ciara had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
Helen said: “The past few years have been a rollercoaster. My poor mother cared for my dad until he died, and then just as she was getting things together I found out I had breast cancer. And then her granddaughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. It was just dreadful.”
The last few years have pushed the family to their limits both physically and mentally, but Helen says that the support of close friends, family and charities, including Momentum, has helped to pull them through the darkest of times.
Helen recalls the day that Ciara was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“It was just after the Easter holidays. We had been on holiday in Majorca and Ciara had been suffering with terrible headaches. There were little indicators over the months that all was not well. She was such a keen and competent rower but she came last in a regatta because she was simply exhausted. She would be breathless just walking upstairs and had unusual bruising on her legs.”
Helen and her husband suspected anaemia but subsequent blood tests revealed Ciara’s condition was far more serious.
“It all happened so quickly,” said Helen. “One minute Ciara was at school and the next she was rushed into hospital and placed in isolation.”
The subsequent months turned out to be the toughest time of their lives. A search was on for a donor match as Ciara desperately needed a bone marrow transplant. Then, during her second round of chemotherapy Ciara became dangerously ill when her line became infected and her condition quickly deteriorated from sepsis to pneumonia.
Helen said: “At that point we thought we had lost her. Ciara spent a week in ICU, on a ventilator and sedated. It was the longest week of our lives.”
But Ciara pulled through, and in the summer a donor match was finally found for her to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Momentum has supported Ciara, her parents and her 14-year-old brother, since her diagnosis and continues to support them to this day.
When Ciara was allowed out of hospital for a few days the family enjoyed a day trip on Momentum’s canal boat, and in the summer, just before Ciara’s transplant, they enjoyed a short break at one of Momentum’s New Forest log cabins.
Helen said: “I can’t even put into words what that break meant to us all. For just a few short days we were a normal family again, doing ordinary family things together.”
Ciara has fought her way through three courses of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and life-threatening infections, but her condition is now stable and the family are slowly surfacing from the illness that has fractured their lives on so many levels.
Helen said: “Cancer tears your family apart. You’re constantly trying to keep things together, like spinning plates, and you are always on the edge of falling apart. Momentum was there when I needed them the most. I offloaded over the phone, I cried, I was able to talk to people who really understood what I was going through.”
And she added: “Ciara spent the majority of her treatment in isolation, protected from the threat of infection, but it made her feel so isolated from the outside world, unable to see friends and family. It was a terribly lonely experience and that was when the little letters and gifts in the post from Momentum made such a difference.”
Little touches are what Momentum is all about.
Helen said: “We were sent letters and biscuits. Then there was a beautiful quilt for Ciara, a ukulele which she absolutely loves and a course of golf lessons for her brother, little things to cheer us all up on dreadful, dark days.”
Helen said: “If there is any good that has come from all this, it is that it makes you value every moment in life. Each day is precious.”
And she added: “I cannot fully express how much Momentum has supported us in every way. Just having someone call regularly to ask ‘How are you?’ ‘What can we do for you right now?’ is invaluable. And the wonderful thing is that they are there for you indefinitely.”