Leukaemia: It changed everything
Being diagnosed with a blood cancer changes everything
For Earlene and her family, it felt like, “A punch in the face. It came from nowhere”.
She had taken her little boy Jacob for his flu shot when she took a moment to tell the GP about some worries that had been niggling away at her.
Jacob, who was two years old at the time, seemed to have a lot of bruises.
He could have got them jumping up and down on his bed, racing his big brother, or trying to climb a tree, but Earlene didn’t think so.
“He was pale,” she remembers. “And he seemed to tire more quickly than his brother and sister.”
The GP was concerned enough to send Earlene and Jacob to the hospital, one hour’s drive away from their home in Blackwater, Queensland, for blood tests. From there, things moved shockingly fast.
“Suddenly they’re talking about us flying to Brisbane the next day,” says Earlene. “I was there with my three kids thinking, ‘What’s happening?’”
Earlene remembers a sleepless night – packing a bag, not knowing how long she would be gone. Then the next morning she got on the plane with Jacob, leaving her husband Don to care for their other children, Matthew and Erin.
“I was just praying there had been a mistake,” says Earlene. “That someone had got the blood tests results wrong. That they’d tell us we could go home.”
At the same time – deep inside – she was preparing herself for the worst.
When tests showed Jacob had leukaemia, Earlene tried to keep calm. She knew survival rates were good these days. But then came the blow that truly rocked her – Jacob had acute myeloid leukaemia, AML, a rare form of blood cancer that is much harder to treat successfully.
“All the emotions hit me – anger, frustration, fear, shock…”
Suddenly Earlene felt far from home, and she was. She had no one to talk to – not even Don.
He was about to start the 12-hour drive from Blackwater to Brisbane with Matthew and Erin. She knew she couldn’t break the devastating news to him while he was on the road.
Earlene couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. All she could think about was her little boy and what he now faced.
“He just wanted me to be by his side all the time. I would literally sleep in his hospital bed. He was so young and so little. I would put on a brave face so he wasn’t worried and tell him everything was going to be okay.”
But everything was far from okay. Jacob faced cycle after cycle of chemotherapy, and then a bone marrow transplant.
Jacob needed his mum. He needed his whole family to get him through.
Earlene felt pulled in every direction. Jacob needed her, but so did Matthew and Erin – she was only 18 months old at the time.
It was just as difficult for Don. He wanted to be with his son, but he also knew the family would soon face financial difficulties if he didn’t work. And then there was the fact that they lived so far from the hospital.
We offered Earlene, Don and their children a place in our accommodation near the hospital, free of charge. It changed everything.
“I couldn’t believe the facilities when I saw them for the first time,” says Earlene. “You dont have to worry about anything – I felt I could just focus on Jacob.”
Our support enabled everyone to rally around Jacob. Earlene and Don were overjoyed when Jacob’s big brother Matthew was found to be a 100% match and a suitable bone marrow donor. But that also meant needing to be there for both Matthew and Jacob through a process that was painful and frightening for them.
After the transplant, Jacob was very sick indeed and he was in isolation for 56 days.
Jacob is a child who loves to be outdoors, running around with Matthew and Erin, but for 56 long days and nights he was stuck in his hospital room.
“Jacob gets his strength from his siblings,” says Earlene.
Jacob has been through more cancer treatment. And after his second bone marrow transplant, he once again took strength from looking over to the door of his hospital room in isolation and seeing Erin and Matthew wave and blow kisses.
He’s now continuing to recover. The family are still living in their ‘small home’ and hoping to go back to their ‘big home’.
You can support families like Jacob’s – find out how.