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Real Stories

Roman: Aunty Tamara’s story 

How are aunts and uncles affected when their niece or nephew is diagnosed with cancer? While each story is different, Tamara (Tam) shares her story about her nephew Roman’s cancer experience.

In June 2018 Tam’s two-and-a-half-year-old nephew Roman was diagnosed with leukaemia. With four kids of her own, Tam is extremely close with her sister Natasha (Tash) and her two nephews Roman and Vin.

“We’re a very close family. A lot of the time, we have a meal at mum and dads, where Tash and her husband Ron live, every Monday night. Roman and Vin also go the same school as my kids and often, we’ll pick each other’s kids up. We’re always in each other’s daily lives and we live within walking distance.”

Diagnosis

“On the day that Roman was diagnosed I went down to the hospital to look after the boys while Tash and Ron went to her graduation ceremony at uni. Then the doctors said, ‘Oh, we might need Ron to stay back because we might have some news coming.’ I took Vin to the Starlight Room to watch movies and do craft while Roman and Ron stayed in the room and Tash caught the bus to graduation.

When I came back to the room, Ron broke the news that Tash had found out on the bus that Roman had Leukemia. I felt absolutely devastated for Tash that she was finding out this on the way to her graduation. She had put in all the hard work, and it was meant to be a great day for her. No one wants that news broken, but to be without your loved ones at the time must have made it harder. It was quite devastating for me to actually be there in the hospital at the time.”

Once Roman went into treatment Tamara would regularly go to the hospital on her days off. It was a chance to give Tash some respite so she could go home and spend some time with Vin or just get some time out of the hospital, even if it was just for a few hours.

“I could also help with Roman’s food requests. Because of the steroids, he was always saying, ‘Something hungry, something hungry’ so you would get some food and he would say, ‘No, not that.’ Tash was feeling frustrated so I could help with that. Even just to sit there, paint, play Play-Doh or read stories gave Tash a break.”

Even with four kids to manage, Tamara managed to squeeze in time for her sister’s family. Tamara’s husband showed great support as well.

“If I’d had a day at the hospital, he would try to get home early and make a meal for the family. Sometimes he was working close to the hospital and would drop things off. You just bend over backwards to help.”

“Bringing my kids to the hospital was another source of joy for Roman and we were quite open with our kids about his condition. We told them that the type of Leukemia Roman had was the most common and the most curable. We wanted to bring them a sense of hope because it was a journey that they would need to go on too. We continued using the same kind of language and making it a light thing. Our family is too connected for them to not know what was happening. They are so much a part of Roman’s life that they needed to know the truth.”

I don’t think they were too scared because we had presented it in a way that was hopeful. It was just another illness that and the doctors were working with the best medicine to help him. We also explained what different medications were doing like making his face swollen, making him pink, or making him irritable. We kept it real. There was a lot of prayer too as we are a Christian family and that also gave us hope.”

Seeing Roman look so ill was heartbreaking for Tam. “Tash was amazingly strong, so I rode on her strength to get through it too. But I would just think, I don’t know how she manages to go night after night with no sleep and having somebody constantly yelling and screaming at her because they don’t know what’s happening in their little body.”

When I was in the hospital a couple of times, I was able to get to a couple of Redkite story bead sessions and they were lovely times where Tash and I would sit, destress, and string some beads together. And the beads that Roman got for every different procedure that he had, was helpful for my kids. They’d come in, and say, ‘Oh, what have you done now?’ and they could see how many things he achieved. Each bead gave a sense of what he had accomplished and showed he was another step closer to being healed.

I mean his story beads string is huge. It represents his cancer journey and I found that a helpful thing for me and the kids. They would be up on his robot, and we could look at them and just talk through the different ones since the last time we visited.

Roman could have gone to school when he turned five, but Tash and Ron thought that it would be better for him to have another year at preschool. I think it’s nice for him to have another year of being a child after missing out for two years being in and out of hospital. To have a full year of being in preschool and then starting kindergarten with confidence at six, sounded good.

It will be lovely, seeing him in the playground because I love Roman’s energy and exuberance for life. He’s just a joy and he’s hilarious with all his funny sayings. He’s also a bit of a mad scientist. He likes to put all these different concoctions together. He’s got a quirky science mind that takes him into the exploratory world of anything. In hospital he had his robot (drip stands) and his octopus chords that came out of his chest!

Roman’s cancer journey was a family affair. Tam and all her family provided the support that was needed and were all were affected in different ways.

“It was a huge amount of juggling, but it all sort of seemed to coordinate because we did it together. So, I really don’t know how anyone can cope without a close and supportive family.”

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