“Harry was for all intents and purposes a normal, happy kid,” says Ryan, a father of three. “Then in January 2014 he started having headaches and vomiting.” After visiting the doctor and making a trip to hospital, the family were told it was probably a virus, but the symptoms continued.
“We went and got the MRI and it turned out he had quite a large brain tumour that had wrapped around his brain stem. Three hours after that he was in hospital being operated on.”
“Harry had his head cut open and they cut the tumour out, but it took another 10 days before we found out that the tumour was actually benign,” Ryan explains. “Because of where the tumour was, Harry couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sit up, his eyes had become crossed, he could hardly talk. He couldn’t do anything for about three weeks, and we weren’t sure if that was going to get better or not.”
going through treatment
Even though Harry’s tumour was found to be benign, the effects of his operation meant months of rehabilitation. “It was pretty tough,” says Ryan.
“Every time he moved, he vomited, and that went on for several months. He couldn’t do anything for himself, and he had to leave hospital in a wheelchair.” Harry also had to undergo two rounds of eye surgery after his initial operation.
“I think the biggest thing we took away was that while it’s a traumatic thing for a couple of months, we’re very lucky,” Ryan says, emphasising that he met other families going through longer, more difficult treatments.
“While it was tough, it really opened your eyes to what’s out there and how lucky we actually were. It gives you a bit of perspective.”
support throughout treatment
Ryan says hospital staff were a vital support to him and his family from the very beginning. “It’s a whirlwind,” he explains. “One minute you’re really upset, then you’ve got one doctor going one way, another doctor doing this test – your head’s spinning. But those nurses just came in and made sure Harry was alright, and Mel and I were alright.”
When Ryan and his family arrived in hospital they were also given a Redkite Red Bag – a diagnosis support pack containing practical items and information. “We’ve still got the Red Bag and we take that on picnics – we still use that all the time. It’s a bit of a badge of honour. I choose to remember it as a happy thing now Harry’s ok.”
giving back to Redkite
As soon as Harry was able to leave hospital, Ryan’s mind turned to supporting the families he knew were still there, and he began raising money for Redkite through activities like the Western Sydney Ironman. “I felt we were lucky – there’s so many people worse off than us, and I thought I’d better help them,” Ryan says.
Ryan adds that it’s often simple, direct actions that are the most helpful when families are going through a cancer diagnosis. “A message or a phone call – the simplest things can be so helpful when you’re in that situation,” he explains.
“Getting that Red Bag, or having someone there to talk to when you’re going through the worst thing in your life – just those little things. The most simple gestures often, I’ve found, no matter who it’s from, were the most helpful for us. Just to know that someone’s looking out for you.”
– September 2015
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