My brave little Mohican
This was my son's greatest ever battle - for his life...
The question that broke my heart was so short, so simple, so to the point, that there was no way of avoiding it. But I tried to anyway.
'Am I going to die?' my son Ollie had asked.
He was only nine. What was I supposed to tell him?
Just three days earlier, everything had been so normal. The biggest fear I'd had was that the dentist would decide Ollie needed a filling.
Instead, he'd noticed my son's gums looked a bit sore.
'I'd get them checked by a doctor if I were you,' he said.
I'd made an appointment with my GP for the following week, and we'd carried on as usual. Sleeping well, waking rested, eating meals together and laughing. What I wouldn't give to be like that again.
A few days later, Ollie and his brother Harry, 11, had been at an art and craft activity camp.
When they'd come in, Ollie had been covered in bruises.
'What have you been doing?' I cried.
'Nothing,' said Ollie, looking surprised. Suddenly, I'd noticed the bruises were deep black blotches that didn't fade when they were pressed.
'Meningitis!' I'd gasped, bundling the boys into the car.
My husband Mike had joined us at Southampton General Hospital. By then, the blotches had spread up Ollie's tummy.
Tests showed it wasn't meningitis. What a relief?
'Ollie has acute myeloid leukaemia,' the doctor said. 'It's a rare form, affecting about 125 children a year.'
'Leukaemia, isn't that cancer?' my boy had whispered, tearfully. 'Granddad died of cancer. Am I going to die?'
So now here I was, wondering what on earth to say. Luckily, the doctor got there first.
'That's not my plan for you,' she said, firmly. 'You're going to have some treatment called chemotherapy, and we're going to look after you.'
My little boy smiled through his tears and gave me a hug, relieved. But the second I was alone with the doctor, I had my own question.
'What are his chances?'
'About 60 per cent,' she replied.
I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, but I had to be strong for my son.
Back home, we tried to explain it to Harry, but finding the words was so hard.
Tutting, Ollie took over.'It's simple,' he said. 'There's some bad bits of my blood, and they're taking over the good bits. The doctors are going to turn it around the other way.'
How amazing was that?! He was so
matter of fact.
Two days later, Ollie had to have a small operation to fit a line - or wiggly, as he called it - into his heart.
That night, I sat with him as the first chemo drugs were pumped through it. I blinked back tears - and Ollie spotted it.
'It doesn't hurt,' he smiled. 'Honest, Mum.'
Over the next couple of weeks, loads of his friends came to visit him, and he had a great time - playing on a PS2 and forming their own X-Factor band, with Ollie jamming on lead guitar.
Then, one day, he came to me with a serious expression.
'The doctor said my hair will fall out soon,' he told me. 'So, before it does, I want a picture of you, me, Dad and Harry.'
'It'll grow back,' I promised,
as we lined up and let the nurse take a snap.
'I know,' he smiled. But I wondered if he was thinking the same as me. If he died, we wouldn't get the chance.
Once the photo was taken, he demanded a razor.
'I've always wanted a Mohican,' he grinned. 'Now's my chance!'
Through the first two rounds of chemo, Ollie stayed chipper, building Lego models, wearing silly wigs and being first in line to meet Olympic hero Ben Ainslie when he came to the hospital.
'I even got to wear his medal!' he grinned.
They let him out of hospital for a few days to go on a family trip to Devon. But the third round of chemo took its toll.
'Mum, my eyes hurt,' he whispered one night.
The pain grew worse and worse. Soon, he was writhing in pain, his little fists clenched, legs moving restlessly beneath the sheets.
'Make the pain stop,' he begged. 'My eyes!'
What was wrong? It turned out it was a side-effect of the chemo?
'Ollie has some puncture holes in his eyes,' the doctor explained.
'Will they heal?' I gasped.
'We need to start treatment immediately,' she said, without making any promises.
Sitting in a darkened room, with Ollie on a drip, I tried not to cry.
'Mum,' he whispered, his eyes closed. 'Take me home, let me die. Anything's better than this.'
If I'd thought my heart had broken before, now it shattered.
But then strength flowed through me. He'd been so amazingly strong before, he'd kept us all going. Now it was my turn.
'Mind over matter love,' I whispered, stroking his head.
Slowly, he nodded, before drifting off
It was six days before he could open his eyes properly - and when he did his schoolmates were waiting with a new batch of funny wigs.
'Try this one!' Harry giggled, handing Ollie an Einstein-style mop.
'I don't need the skull cap!' he laughed, running his hand over his own shiny scalp.
But within days, he was hit by an infection and had to be fed through the 'wiggly'.
Thankfully, Ollie was well enough for his 10th birthday party. But at the start of December, he caught pneumonia, which put a stop to chemo.
'He might not be home in time for Christmas,' I sobbed to Mike.
Would he ever come home?
I kept thinking about what he'd said - 'Let me die Mum?'
What if he gave up?
As the decorations went up around the ward, I willed him to pull through. Then, a few days before Christmas, he sat up.
'Mum, how will Santa get my presents here?'
A big grin spread across my face. 'I'll tell you what,' I said. 'I'll get him to drop them at home, and I'll bring them to you with a nice roast dinner.'
Watching him tear the paper off his gifts while the hospital Santa beamed next to him, I was so happy.
'A Wii! he cried. Then, 'Great jacket, Mum!' he said, trying on his new leather coat.
The best present though? - that he didn't need more chemo.
'All we can do now is wait,' I whispered to Mike. 'I just wish he wasn't going to start the new year in this place.'
'Maybe he doesn't have to,' he replied, flashing a grin.
After a quick word with Ollie's consultant, Mike came back.
'All sorted,' he said. 'They'll let him out for a few hours so he can go to that party round his mate's.'
'That's great!' I cried.
Ollie was really excited as he changed into his best togs. When he walked into the party,
As the clock struck midnight, I held Ollie's hand for a round of Auld Lang Syne.
'That was the best New Year ever!' he laughed, as we drove him back to the ward. 'And this year's going to be the best, too.'
Two days later, Ollie was discharged from hospital.
He won't get the all-clear until 2012, but he's in remission, and he has a full head of hair again.
And, this year, as the clock strikes midnight, I'll raise a glass to his good health!
Lyndsey Uglow, 42, Southampton
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