The Henry-Waring Family
When our toddler Marmaduke was diagnosed with cancer, my wife Millsom and I tried our best to process the shock and fear, but we couldn’t predict the relentless nature of the journey ahead of us.
Family life and school drop-offs were maintained for siblings Charlotte (14) and Felix (4), as we made critical decisions about treatment, finances and our own jobs. Millsom was pregnant, so I would disappear into hospital with Marmaduke for days on end, appearing at the school gates if I could, to maintain a semblance of ‘normality’. Of course, it was anything but ‘normal’, for although new baby Rafferty joined the family, I was effectively in hospital with Marmaduke for three out of every four weeks in the first year.
However, after one year Marmaduke was pronounced ‘clear’, so after inhaling slowly, we took a relieved family holiday to Byron Bay. This is when Millsom found a lump in her breast, and returned to Melbourne for a mastectomy, and her own chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Seven months later, and only days before Millsom completed her own treatment, Marmaduke relapsed badly.
His chemotherapy began again, and the relentless pace continued, for within three months Millsom herself had relapsed. She was now declared terminal, with two to three years our most optimistic estimate.
Then just two months later Marmaduke also became terminal. Managing two terminal patients in a young family of six took juggling to a whole new level!
We pulled Marmaduke off all aggressive treatment, and brought him home to essentially live in the moment with him. We took him to our favourite places (with medical kits under one arm) to camp, swim or fish, and spent precious family time together.
However, on his fourth birthday it all began to crash around our ears, as they both began to fade. After her usual blood tests, Millsom was told she had only weeks to live, but unfortunately, Millsom’s wheels didn’t even have time to wobble. They just fell off, and she died nine days later.
After his mum died, Marmaduke lasted another five weeks in his own room, surrounded by Charlotte, Felix and Rafferty. It was a most beautiful time, for even as his strength waned, there were shared smiles every day.
This is a challenging story to relate to adults, let alone justify or explain to the children. While it is critical to recognise that recovery from such trauma is very slow, I won’t let my surviving children be defined by grief.
So we access counselling and support services wherever possible, and race off camping at every opportunity to breath out on remote beaches, and build new memories and family rituals.
Children invariably fall down the priority list during a cancer journey, as medical emergencies take precedence over everything. In light of this, the nomination from a parent in the school community was humbling, and the offer from Feel The Magic completely unexpected.
A Disneyland adventure that is totally focused on the children at such a unique destination, is genuinely a once in a lifetime gift.
Coming at such a formative period in their lives, it offers the family a wonderful, healing opportunity to build lasting memories together.
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