Posted on Monday 28 June 2021

Harris’ story: “I think I just didn’t want to believe it until someone said it”

“You’re almost sat there waiting to go to war in a way, then you go to the ward and you have to put a smile on your face. When you walk out you’re exhausted.”

For weeks, Mark and his wife Terri would alternate between their toddler’s bedside and the nearby Young Lives vs Cancer Home from Home, passing each other like ships in the night. They worked out a shift system so that someone was always with Harris, there to hold his hand while he had treatment.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, only one parent could be with Harris at any one time. Twenty minutes after Harris was first admitted to Bristol Children’s Hospital, his parents would only see each other when it was time to change positions.

Harris' parents stayed at Sam's House while he was having cancer treatment, during the pandemic

Harris, 2, had been diagnosed with Wilm’s tumour after his nursery spotted blood in his nappy.

“In the beginning of July the nursery phoned me up and basically said we’ve found some blood in Harris’ nappy. I was at work at the time. They said it was quite a lot. Now, what quite lot means to someone is something else to someone else. They ended up sending us a photo of the nappy and it had clots.

“My wife picked him up straight away. We phoned the doctors who took the same opinion of us ‘where’s the blood, is it really going to be that bad?’ It was only when we sent the picture they said you need to go to hospital.”

That day, Harris was taken to the hospital where they did an ultrasound. During the scan, doctors noticed a mass.

“At first we didn’t know, they said a mass and we thought it might be a cyst, we didn’t really know. And then the next day he was booked in for a full CT scan and MRI. Later on that day that’s when we got pulled in to the room and told the news. I think I knew from the start, I had my suspicions just because of how bad the blood was. I think I just didn’t want to believe it until someone said it.”

Things escalated quickly from there. They had received the news on Thursday evening in Plymouth and were told to get to Bristol Children’s Hospital for 7:30am Monday morning, to start treatment straight away.

Not only did they have to spend the weekend preparing themselves to take their toddler to hospital for chemotherapy, they also had to arrange for their other son to stay with someone else. The diagnosis had come in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic so Harris’ brother wasn’t allowed on the ward and only one parent could be there with Harris at any one time.

“We were allowed for the first 20 minutes and then from there on [we were apart]. Young Lives vs Cancer wasn’t open over the weekend – I didn’t even know Young Lives vs Cancer existed until someone mentioned it whilst we were in Plymouth. We booked in a hotel in Bristol, I spent twenty minutes in the hospital with Harris and then I went and checked into the hotel. That was it. That was the start of handing over and two weeks on the starlight ward to start his chemo.”

After two nights at a nearby hotel, Harris’ parents moved to Sam’s House, a Young Lives vs Cancer Home from Home. This move was invaluable to Mark and Terri.

Harris with his Mum, Terri, Dad, Mark and brother, Ollie

“The money was a massive worry at first – because it was like ‘how are we going to pay for a hotel for two weeks?’ and because of the pandemic you can’t just go out for food and the hotel we stayed in didn’t do food so it was just really hard. I ended up eating lots of sandwiches from Sainsbury’s and M&S because you couldn’t cook.

“Once we were in Sam’s House, straight away I did an online shop and picked up a load of stuff and cooked big batches of meals for when the wife came out of hospital and I took over so she could come back and have her tea and it was all ready for her.”

Mark and Terri switched between staying with Harris on the ward and getting rest at Sam’s House, where they could lay down, eat, wash their clothes and have time to decompress after the constant whirring and buzzing of the oncology ward.

“It was a lot more comfortable for us [at the Home from Home]. Someone put on the Young Lives vs Cancer media not long ago, about how you’re almost sat there waiting to go to war in a way, then you go to the ward and you have to put a smile on your face. When you walk out you’re exhausted It’s funny because you’ve just been sat down for six hours and then you go back to Sam’s House and sit down again because you’re exhausted.”

After that first two weeks of treatment, Harris and his parents would return to the Home for further stays throughout his treatment plan.

“You’ve got June the cleaner she’s amazing, Ann who manages the house does a cracking job. They’re always talking to you as soon as you walk in. Ann used to ring me – she got the news that Harris could stay at Sam’s House for one night and I don’t think she could get on the phone any faster. We managed to get in that one night before the scan and just alone that was so helpful because we would have had to have got a hotel the night, it kept us all together.”

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