"You never know when you or someone close to you may need help.”
Guest Blogger: Tara Brown
Earlier this year, we looked after the family of three year-old Mitchell Brown whilst he received treatment at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Just before Christmas, mum Tara and dad Tony realised something wasn’t quite right with their precious young boy as he had severe sickness. After several GP visits, Mitchell was eventually rushed for an MRI scan and was later diagnosed with several tumours and a very aggressive form of brain cancer, Medulloblastoma. Here Tara tells us what it was like having a child in hospital and what the Manchester House meant to them.
“Just after Mitchell turned three in November last year, he started vomiting a little. Not often and it seemed to be for no reason, but in December we noticed that he started to become a bit wobbly when he was walking and he had developed a slight shake in his right hand. We took Mitchie to our local GP who prescribed gaviscon for the sickness, which we tried for three days, but it didn't help. I knew in my gut that this needed further investigation.
After Christmas, we managed to get back in for another appointment where we saw two different GP’s. They asked Mitch to touch his finger to his nose, which he could not do with his right hand. The GP sent us to Royal Preston Hospital for an MRI scan. At 5.30 that evening, the doctor drew the curtains around us and told us they had found a brain tumour. We sat in shock and disbelief for over three hours whilst waiting for an ambulance to take us to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
The next day, the doctors told us that as well as the one large tumour in his brain, Mitchie also had lots of little ones around his brain and his spine was riddled with tumours. Further treatment would be required but we needed to wait to know what the tumours were. A nine hour operation took place the next day in which the large tumour was removed. We didn't know what state Mitchie would be in when he woke up and when he did, he was unable to sit up by himself or to walk. A day later, we were taken back into the dreaded room where we were told Mitchie had Medulloblastoma; a very aggressive form of brain cancer. Six weeks of brain and spine radiotherapy followed at The Christie.
After his treatment at The Christie, he was admitted back to the children’s hospital to start chemo, and that’s when we were offered a room at the Ronald McDonald House – it was a godsend. I mostly stayed with Mitch in the hospital, but my family who had travelled from Australia stayed in the House – it was such a huge help and relief.
When I first stepped into the House, it was surreal. The fact that we needed to stay in the House in the first place was a shock. But then we were overwhelmed by the kindness of it all. Everything about Ronald McDonald House is good. It's about looking after people when they really need it. It takes the pressure off. It's one less thing to worry about - driving all the way home when you are in no state to drive, a nice comfortable bed when you desperately need sleep, a home away from home for siblings when they come to visit.
My Mum, Dad and sister were able to stay in the House and be a constant support and help for me all the time. If they weren't able to stay just over the road, I wouldn't have eaten, I wouldn't have left the room, I wouldn't have gone outside, I wouldn't have been able to pop home to spend time with my daughter. It was lovely for Mitch to spend time with others as well, especially as he was in isolation for the majority of the time he was in hospital.
The main thing that stood out to me is that every time you walk in the door, or walk out the door to go back to the hospital, the staff always smile and acknowledge you. Always. And they always ask after my son. It is touching to know how much they care.
My daughter Zoe loved staying there. In fact, Mitch himself stayed one or two nights when we came down before his next chemotherapy started, and they both loved it. They thought it was an adventure staying in a different place and they LOVED the playroom! It didn't matter what floor we were on, they loved going to the communal room and exploring!
I am very pleased to say that Mitchie rang the End of Treatment Bell on 3 August. This is not the end of our journey though. Tests and scans will be needed regularly for the rest of Mitchie’s life. But he is here. And he is home. One big thing I will say is to trust your instinct. Always.
How did we cope? I honestly don't know. All I know is that we had no choice but to cope. You are allowed to cry and scream and be upset, but I made sure not to do any of these in front of the kids. I think we coped by remaining positive always and to only take a day at a time. When something like this happens, you can only deal with a day at a time. And if it's been a good day, then you say great and enjoy it. But then onto the next. And if it's been a bad day, you say, right well that wasn't good, but tomorrow will be better.
We stayed at the House on five occasions, and when we went home the final time we were so happy but also sad. So happy because we were going home, but sad because we had been so well looked after by Ronald McDonald House.
You never know when you or someone close to you may need help.”