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Bella and Ritchie hugging - dad and daughter - cancer

Real Stories

A Father’s Story: Ritchie

“If I could have any impact, it would be to stand up for men, to have us treated as equals. There’s a lot of good men out there who care.”

In 2018, Ritchies world was turned upside down when, his almost six-year-old daughter Bella, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Along with the shock of Bella’s diagnosis, he worried that Bella, who has Down Syndrome, may not understand what was going on. “We were so scared our beautiful, amazing little girl was going to die.”

Ritchie describes himself as a six-foot-tall, bald gentleman, and recalls feeling ignored and overlooked when Bella was first diagnosed.

“I was Bella’s primary caregiver for over four years, and in the beginning many of the medical staff would only speak to my partner. At times I felt like I should have just left the room.”

During Bella’s treatment, Ritchie gave up work to be with Bella. He found that he wasn’t seen as the primary caregiver. “Men really aren’t looked at as the nurturer. During the first few months, I stayed at the hospital with Bella full-time. The beginning was particularly hard because there were so many unknowns, and many professionals would only speak to Annie, my partner. I got really upset and I even told them that I may as well go home even though I’m doing a lot for Bella and I’m sleeping there every night and I’m giving 200%.”

After talking to other dads’, Ritchie discovered he wasn’t the only dad who felt like that.

“I would talk to a lot of fathers in the hospital myself. If I saw someone a looking a little bit lost, I would talk to them. It would feel good to have a conversation, because people just don’t know who to talk to.”

After being in hospital with Bella for a while and experiencing limited communication, Ritchie’s presence as a father and primary caregiver finally took place in the hospital system.

“I was never undermined. I was just ignored. Once they got to know me, things were different. The doctors and nurses were wonderful.”

Once Bella began intensive chemotherapy treatment, Ritchie’s concerns about his daughter with grew.

“Due to her Down Syndrome, many medications were given as a lesser dosage than what she was supposed to receive. The medication could either work well or have negative impacts on children with Down Syndrome. The doctors just didn’t know how Bella’s body would react.”

Ritchie spent months in hospital watching his daughter go through the hardest fight for her life, while learning the medical terminology and overwhelming amount of information that came his way.

“They’re preparing you for war. They don’t know how treatment is going to affect the kids, especially kids with Down Syndrome, because all the chromosomes are different.”

Bella received six months of intensive chemotherapy followed by 18 months of maintenance. “Bella was a queen, and she was the one to lift the doctors up with jokes and laughter.”

Today, Bella is in remission and is back at school. “I am very proud of Bella. She continues to have blood taken and sees medical teams every few months so relapse is always on our minds.”

Ritchie believes there is still a stigma attached to mothers being the more nurturing parent and being seen as the primary caregiver.

“If I could have any impact, it would be to stand up for men, to have us treated as equals. There’s a lot of good men out there who care.”

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