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Real Stories

Roman: Granny Sharon and Pa Phil

How are grandparents affected when their grandchild is diagnosed with cancer? While each story is different, Granny Sharon and Pa Phil share their story about their grandson Roman’s cancer experience.

In June 2018 Sharon and Phil’s two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Roman was diagnosed with Leukemia.

Granny Sharon and Pa Phil are doting grandparents and have a loving and close relationship with all of their 11 grandchildren. Living with their daughter Tash and her husband Ron, and their grandsons Roman and Vin, they developed a strong bond with them, becoming like second parents. Sharon recalls Roman’s birth, “I saw Roman being born and held him when he was just a few minutes old.”

In 2018, Roman contracted swine flu on a visit to Indonesia and had to be medevaced back to Perth. His bloodwork showed nothing urgent and it wasn’t until Sharon and Phil had come back from visiting their son in Tasmania that they noticed Roman’s stomach looking quite bloated. He’d also been complaining about aching legs and a sore stomach. Sharon’s daughter Tash took him to the local hospital. Roman was diagnosed with Leukemia and started treatment three days later at Westmead Hospital.

“It took Phil and I by surprise because Roman was such an active child who loved running and mischief. He wasn’t sickly. Phil was devastated to hear the news about his little grandson.”

Taking the medication was traumatic for Roman due to the terrible side effects and even though Sharon and Phil were there for any support, Ron had to stop work, because it was hard with two preschoolers. If Roman had a fever, they would have to get him to the hospital within an hour, which meant they had to stop everything they were doing straight away.

“Tash and Ron were very upset, but they were strong, where I seemed to be an emotional mess. I used to say, I’m handling it worse than everyone! We were heartbroken to think what was happening.

We’re Christians, so our faith has helped a lot, and we had lots of people supporting us in practical ways too, like with food or a coffee card.”

It was hard for Sharon to see Vin, Roman’s older brother upset. “I think Vin was scared for his brother. They’re only two years apart and best buddies, so he missed him. Roman missed Vin too because as Phil would say, ‘When we go to visit, and Vin is there the two boys are often just sitting in bed playing together’.

Sharon’s other daughter, Tamara, would visit when it was too much for Natasha or Ron to be there 24-hours a day, seven days a week without a break.

“We would try and organise for someone to be with Roman so they could have a break for at least an hour if they wanted to go for a walk or have a shower or grab a coffee. It was moral support and practical support as well.”

Phil recalls taking Roman for walks. “We’d take him out in the stroller, and he had to take that tower with him, we called it a robot and the tubes coming out his chest were like an octopus.”

Living altogether meant Tash and Ron didn’t have to pay for certain things which took some financial pressure off.

“I know they got the vouchers for petrol and food which were really helpful, I know they appreciated that so much. And I got a booklet A Guide for Grandparents of Children with Cancer and it was good to read that. It was helpful. But I wasn’t aware of any other support that you could give like Connect Groups for Grandparents.”

Roman used to say when his hair grows back, he wanted to have brown curls like granny, so he’s now got a mop of curly brown hair. Ron has got curly hair as well, so I can’t take full credit. Anyway, he’s lost that moon face and he’s got his cute little elfin face again.

He’s got so much energy now, but it took him a while. Now he runs around, rides his bike, and he’s catching up on all the mischief that he missed out for two years. He’s also eating really well and putting on weight.

He had two years of not mixing with lots of other children, except his cousins and family, so pre-school was been a bit of an adjustment, just getting used to school and other kids too. So, he’s getting better.”

He’s now in year one at school and thriving. He loves art and science and is very good at reading and maths. It brings joy to my heart seeing him doing so well.

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