Tuesday 24th October 2017
Brave Nathan's Battle
Seven year old Nathan Mowat was only three when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. As he reaches the end of his treatment, his family are now backing our Schiehallion Appeal to help children just like Nathan. We are honoured to share Nathan’s journey as told by his Mum Gillian, who hopes their story will help raise awareness of childhood cancer.
On the 29th of August 2014 I took Nathan to our GP as he was very pale and the previous day he had tummy and chest pains while running around with his cousin. He had also been complaining of ‘sore legs’ - two words we now hate - on and off.
Looking back there were other signs that I now know as symptoms of leukaemia but at the time I was blissfully unaware of these, as so many parents are. Nathan also had high temperatures, nose bleeds and night sweats.
Spotting The Signs
Had I known these were potential symptoms of cancer, I would have taken Nathan to the doctors a lot sooner. If one person thinks "it might be cancer" after reading this then that's possibly a life saved.
Thankfully our GP, Dr Stewart, was on the ball and knew straight away what we were dealing with even though she didn't tell me that at the time. She did tell me she didn't like his colour and was sending us to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley for blood tests.
While we sat there waiting on the results the thought of cancer never crossed my mind. Looking back I was so naive. I thought he was anaemic, maybe needed some iron! How wrong was I?
We were taken into a wee room where our lives would change forever. We were told they suspected Nathan had leukaemia but they couldn't say for sure.
Within the hour we were blue lighted to the old Yorkhill Hospital. Three weeks later we would spend Nathan's 4th birthday with him - a round, bald and if not for his cheeky smile, unrecognisable little man.
As soon as we got to Yorkhill Nathan was cannulised and put on fluids, our journey with needles had begun. The next morning Nathan had a bone marrow aspirate. Later that day Prof Gibson took us into another wee room and confirmed Nathan had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
I can't put into words what we felt as a family. Shock, fear, despair doesn't cover it. It is worse than your worst nightmare. A rollercoaster ride you can’t get off.
We were totally lost in world we knew nothing about. A world where we didn't understand the vocabulary or surroundings, where our hearts ached, where we struggled to take in what was happening to our perfect little boy and where MRD positive meant something negative.
Through all this though, on the Schiehallion Ward we found hope, love, laughter, friendship, strength, support and met real life super heroes every single day.
Our New Normal
The next 9 months consisted of 4 different blocks of treatment, induction, consolidation, interim maintenance and delayed intensification where Nathan became fluent in the vocabulary.
He had to endure 10 different cocktails of chemotherapies, 6 Bone Marrow Aspirates, 2 ports, 3 surgeries, 12 nasal gastric tubes, 16 blood and platelet transfusions, numerous rounds of antibiotics and tests.
Nathan has lost his hair twice, had hundreds of injections, cannula's, butterflies and thumb pricks. To date he has had 22 lumber punctures and has spent 108 nights in hospital.
This may sound like a lot to some people but in our new world this is normal. We know kids who have been through and continue to go through a hell of a lot more trying to win this fight.
Nathan's Beads of Courage show just how far he has come. For each procedure, treatment, injection, transfusion or surgery he has, he earns a bead on his string. Over the past 3 years, Nathan's Beads of Courage have grown to 60ft long with him earning over 1,500 beads. The Beads of Courage programme have been a huge focus and distraction for Nathan and I.
The stage of Nathan's treatment that we are currently on is called maintenance. We are on a trial and have been since the beginning of Nathan's treatment. It was a lot to take in when Nathan was first diagnosed, however we hope by being part of the trial we will be able to help someone else.
This is the longest part of treatment but the gentlest on Nathan. His port and NG tube came out and his hair came back, he takes oral chemotherapy every day, 2 lots on a Tuesday, antibiotics on a Friday and Saturday and lumber punctures every 12 weeks.
Despite all this, Nathan is a happy, active, cheeky, little chap who has shown incredible strength, resilience and bravery throughout.
We are very proud of how well he copes with everything, his strength, courage and fighting spirit. He never lets his cancer diagnosis define him, and has given us the strength to get through this.
Schiehallion - Our Oncology Family
We can't thank all the staff and volunteers in the hospital and on Schiehallion enough for all their expertise, knowledge and care, for the shoulders and the cuddles, the support and friendship through one of the hardest and darkest parts of our lives.
Nathan enjoys coming to the hospital, he doesn't know any different. It is familiar to him. A home from home where he knows everyone and is spoiled rotten.
We have made lifelong friends through Schiehallion who we affectionately call our oncology family. They are the only people who truly know and understand what we are going through, who are there in the middle of the night when you can't still your racing mind, and who we will be eternally grateful for.
The End Of Treatment
Nathan is due to finish treatment in January 2018. Unfortunately the end of treatment doesn't mean the end of worry or hospital visits, but it is a huge milestone to be celebrated.
We are apprehensive about this next stage as we know we won't go back to normal. This is our new normal.
We are looking forward to moving on and will take our lead from Nathan by not letting this define us. We have some comfort in knowing we will have the Schiehallion doctors and nurses keeping an eye on Nathan for the next 5 years.
There is so much more I could say about childhood cancer and the impact it has had not only on Nathan’s life but on all our lives, good and bad. The above may be long but is not even a drop in the ocean of childhood cancer.
Much more awareness and research is badly needed. However, we are very fortunate that we have such pioneering staff and research right here on our door step at Glasgow’s Children’s Hospital and the Schiehallion Appeal will only help to enhance this amazing care even further.