Crushed from the inside

Something was stopping my daughter from breathing...

Published by: Jessica Gibb and Naomi Rainey
Published on: 19 January 2012

There must have been a team of 10 doctors, nurses and specialists staring at us. My husband Ian, 48, clutched my hand.
‘What's wrong?' I gulped, as the consultant closed the door.
But when he spoke, all I heard was medical jargon.
‘Is it cancer?' Ian cut in.
The consultant continued. More medical terms, more confusion.
‘Is it cancer?' Ian asked again, but the medic just carried on.
My husband bristled, I could feel him getting annoyed now.
‘Does my daughter have cancer?' Ian asked again.
The consultant took a deep breath. ‘Yes. We've found a large tumour in her chest.'
Ian dropped his head in his hands and wept.
Lucy, 13, had complained that she'd been getting out of breath doing the simplest things. ‘Even walking to school,' she'd moaned.
Our GP had suspected asthma, but had sent Lucy for an x-ray to be on the safe side. Now we'd been given this news.
The consultant explained the tumour hadn't penetrated any of our daughter's vital organs - but it was pushing down on her lung. She might die.
‘I can't tell her,' I whispered. ‘Lucy's blossoming into a beautiful young woman. How can I tell her she might not live long enough to become that woman?'
Ian wiped his tears. ‘I'll do it,' he croaked. I think it's the bravest thing he's ever done. Finally, I plucked up the courage to go to join them, and my heart broke seeing them clinging to each other.
‘How can I fight this?' she sobbed.
‘We'll fight it together,' Ian promised.
‘Mum, I'm scared,' Lucy wept.
‘I know, darling,' I croaked. ‘But Dad's right, we'll fight this together.' If only I could fight it for her. It tortured me that I couldn't. Instead, I had to leave her here, in this hospital.
Back home, the house felt so quiet and empty. Our son Jake, 17, played on his PlayStation, trying to block out the terrible news. Rosie, four, and Molly, three, quietly watched Peppa Pig.
But as I cooked dinner, I missed the laughter that usually echoed around as Lucy gave the girls piggybacks.
‘It's just not right without her here,' I croaked to Ian.
‘I know,' he nodded. ‘Even Evie's unusually quiet.' Nine-week-old Evie was the newest addition to our family.
Later, I took Rosie and Molly up for a bath. ‘Where's Lucy?' Molly sulked.
Every night, Lucy would help me bath the girls and get them ready for bed. I could hear her now... ‘Right, who wants dunking?' she'd tease.
‘No!' they'd shriek.
‘She's poorly, but she'll be home soon,' I promised now.
Only she wasn't. A second tumour was found... and this time, I vowed to give her the news. Trembling, I walked to her bed.
‘Mum?' she said.
I sat on her bed and clutched her hand. ‘There's another tumour,' I said. ‘It's on your spine.'
Her face paled. ‘Will I still be able to play the clarinet?' she frowned. I almost smiled.
My sweet, innocent girl... a Girl Guide and St John Ambulance cadet, she also played clarinet in the Thurmaston Scout and Guide marching band. It meant everything to her.
‘I don't know, sweetheart,' I said honestly. Then I took a deep breath. ‘This one could leave you paralysed.' She burst into tears.
Further tests gave us some more bad news. Lucy had ganglioneuroblastoma, a rare cancer resistant to treatment. The only option was surgery.
‘We can't operate on the one on your spine Lucy, until you've finished growing,' the doctor said. ‘But we can remove the one in your chest. There's a chance you might die...'
‘I don't want to have the operation,' Lucy cried.
She was scared - we all were. But this was her only chance.
During the six-hour operation, surgeons had to peel back her chest and cut through two ribs to get to the growth. The waiting was agonising, but...
‘It went really well,' the doctor smiled. ‘Would you like to see the tumour we removed?'
I needed to see it, to know the thing that had almost killed my daughter was now gone for good.
‘It's huge!' I gasped.
‘It's the size of Lucy's head,' Ian whispered.
‘How long was it growing inside her?' I asked.
‘It was slow growing, so maybe for years,' the doctor replied. ‘Left much longer, it would've killed her. It had completely crushed her left lung and was restricting her heart.'
Lucy still had a long road ahead of her - so we were amazed when she came out of intensive care just 36 hours later.
‘You've been so brave,' I said.
Three days later, the girls were jumping on to her bed. ‘Careful!' I panicked. But Lucy was laughing.
‘We brought you some new JLS pyjamas,' Molly giggled.
‘Wow, thanks,' my brave girl smiled. Watching Jake teasing her about supporting Liverpool, and her sisters begging her for piggybacks, I was close to tears. My family was back together.
A month later, Lucy was back at home. ‘Will you paint my nails?' Rosie asked, as soon as she walked through the door.
‘That would be great,' Lucy smiled. Everything was normal!
Five months on, she's made an amazing recovery. Doctors can't operate on the spinal tumour until next year. It makes her legs tired, so we have a wheelchair on standby. But she's determined not to let it take over her life.
She wants to become a paramedic. ‘Doctors saved my life, I want to save others,' she tells me.
Lucy has been left with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and is facing heart surgery when she's older. She also has Horner's syndrome, which means she could lose her sight.
Words can't describe how proud I am of her, and hearing her laughter once again in our home is just the sweetest sound ever.
Carmen Betts, 38, Thurmaston, Leicester