We have come a long, long way thanks in no small part to the input of Teens Unite

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04 September 2017
  • Challenges

We have come a long, long way thanks in no small part to the input of Teens Unite

Hello, my name is David. I am the proud father of Elliot; a teenager supported by Teens Unite.  

In September 2013, after many visits to Stanmore Hospital my then 14 year old son was diagnosed with cancer. When the doctors broke the news, it felt like all the lights in my whole world had been turned off.

We had already suffered from a painful time with Elliot’s older sister from her early years. She was born eight weeks premature and shortly after being released from a long stay in hospital suffered from two life threatening bowel intussusceptions, followed a few months later by a rare blood disorder. But this all paled into insignificance when we were told the devastating news - Elliot, I am sorry to say you have cancer. We couldn’t believe the bad luck that had been cast over our family once again.

Elliot was so brave right from the very start of his diagnosis. He shed only a few tears and showed little outward emotion. In fact, the moment he was told the devastating news, he just said "so what happens next"?

What did happen next was his admittance to University College Hospital London for a series of biopsies, scans, blood tests and a pic line inserted in his arm that went into his heart to feed the toxic, but necessary chemotherapy that was needed immediately. No child should have to go through this, but Elliot did with such bravery. As a parent, it’s torturous having to watch your child having to fight such a controlling illness and you just want to protect them as much as you can from any pain and upset. You just wish it could be you and not them. 

Up until September Elliot was a healthy, fun, loving boy, full of adventure with a cheeky little twist, you know the odd remark that I would chastise him on and then chase after him and tickle him until we both fell around laughing! My fear was that this was about to end, my son, my best friend, the little guy who one day I hoped would bring home grandchildren may never be around to do that.

We then faced another dilemma as a family, when the time came for Elliot's sister to leave home to start her studies at Reading University. She was unsure what to do.  Should she defer for a year or should she go and leave her brother?

It was such a difficult decision that Elliot made so easy for us all. He told her to go as he was so proud of what she had achieved and that nothing should stand in her way. I believe this was such a brave and difficult thing for Elliot to say as they have always been so close, but none the less he meant it. Tegan left for university and we went from having two children at home to an eerily empty house. It was heartbreaking.

In the space of a few weeks, we had gone from having what we portrayed as the perfect family life, to our whole world being turned upside down. I saw everything through distorted vision with the amount of tears that fell from my eyes when I was alone.

I couldn’t show Elliot my weak side, especially as he was being so strong. I became a two person man - a happy and strong one in front of my little boy, but a weak and tearful one when left alone. I became a person my friends didn’t know how to approach and talk to, I felt abandoned by them. My wife was a pillar of support, we have always been close and we became closer still, she was the one that gave me the strength needed to carry on.

At first I was caught up in the whirlwind of hospitals, doctors and treatment rooms and funnily enough it's this whirlwind that seems to keep you sane as there isn’t enough time to think of anything else.

The treatment went as well as could be expected, or at least Elliot hid the pain very well. I suspect this was nearer the truth. But my fear was what was going on inside, what would cancer do to us as a family? I was so worried about what the future would hold.

During a counselling session a leaflet about Teens Unite was handed to Elliot and he decided to sign up. I was pleased as although the treatment was going well, he was becoming withdrawn and not the usual happy go lucky lad that I had known for 14 years, but then again, was I still the same person Elliot had grown up with?

The friends that he had at school didn’t seem to cope well with Elliot’s illness and he was becoming isolated and ignored by the people he had once called his best friends. The phone calls stopped as did the party invites and sadly, his new best friend became a games console.

One day, Elliot received an email inviting him to the Teens Unite Christmas party. I felt excited and relieved that at last he had been invited somewhere. He was reluctant at first, but after some convincing, he agreed to go.  

We both attended the party and my intention was to leave him once he had settled. I believe that this was the intention of another Father that I started to talk to. We made small talk for a few minutes and then he asked me about Elliot’s friends. Did they still contact him? Did they come over to see Elliot? Were they still the friends that they once were? As I gave my answers I could see him nodding his head in agreement. No my friends didn’t contact me, no they didn’t come over to visit Elliot and no, they were certainly not the friends they once were! We both had a common theme and it's one I’ve come to hear only too often from the parents we’ve met through the charity.

Time whizzed by at the Christmas party and all too soon it was time to go. I walked away realising I had just opened up to a complete stranger and spoke about things I had never been able to do with anyone else.

Since the day Elliot was diagnosed, I had been trying to keep all of my emotions to myself, but Teens Unite have provided endless opportunities to meet other parents in exactly the same situation as me and my wife and share our deepest fears and inhibitions. Not only has Elliot made lifelong friends through the charity, but we have too. It’s so reassuring to know that we’re not the only family out there with these thoughts and feelings. It’s a comfort to be able to speak with other parents who really understand what you’re going through. I never realised just how angry, upset and fearful I had felt until I started to open up to others.

Elliot then started to monitor the Teens Unite website for new events. He went to a football game and then a football stadium tour and I could see a change in him straightaway. His outlook on life was beginning to become positive again. I gained strength from seeing my little boy accepting what had happened and starting to move forward. This helped me to do the same. Nothing can ever prepare you for such a harsh knock back in life, but Teens Unite have made our journey so much easier and I’m so proud of how far Elliot has come.

He has firmly become one of the family at Teens Unite, as have we all. He has gone onto public speaking on their behalf and spreading the word about teenage cancer through interviews on both radio and television. In actual fact, not too long ago Elliot was riding into Elstree studio upon a rickshaw along with five other wonderful young people to finish a total of 477miles for the BBC Children In Need Rickshaw Challenge. Some of you may have been following their journey on the One Show. This was another incredible opportunity that Teens Unite put Elliot’s way, helping him to grow stronger as a person and into the remarkable young man that stands in front of me and my wife today.

The Rickshaw Challenge lasted eight days, eight very long days for me and my wife even though Elliot was having the time of his life.

Elliot hadn’t been away from us for such a long period of time on his own since his diagnosis and I would watch the TV screen every night awaiting news of my little buddy. I listened to the radio to hear his voice and watched the phone with baited breath waiting for it to ring so I could speak with him. Not a single day went by when I didn’t shed a tear.  

I had to keep reminding myself that even though it felt like Elliot was away for a lifetime, it wasn’t forever and he would be back soon enough. A luxury for us as parents when so many other families that we have met through Teens Unite haven’t been able to have their child safely back in their arms as they have lost their fight with cancer far too young. It made me realise how lucky we are. We can still hold him and kiss him goodnight, others are not so fortunate.

Some amazing things happened during Elliot's time on the rickshaw challenge, he was treated like a star when it was his turn to ride with people wanting their picture with him and interviews were demanded by all and sundry. A humbling moment happened when a TV presenter suggested that the team chosen were the best six young people, Elliot replied we are not the best or the worst, we are just the luckiest.

At the end of the challenge, presenter of the One Show, Matt Baker took me and my wife to one side to tell us what a fantastic and selfless person Elliot is. He said that he asked his son who he wanted to be for a Children In Need superhero fundraising event. He didn’t know, so Matt asked him who his favourite superhero was. To which he replied "Elliot". I tend to agree with Matt's son, Elliot is my superhero too!

At the moment things are good, Elliot has regular checkups and all his tumours are still shrinking. In actual fact we have only just come through a scare and the words no cancer cells in the blood tests feel like you have just won the lottery ten times over!

As a family, we have come a long, long way thanks in no small part to the input of Teens Unite. I don’t suppose I will ever stop worrying about the what ifs, but one thing is for sure, for every day that we get to spend with Elliot we are eternally grateful as it gives us hope that there will be another one coming right along tomorrow.

Thank you to all the staff at Teens Unite from the bottom of my heart for helping us as a family to come this far. I know for certain that without your help we would be in a far different place.


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