Eight-year-old Sam, who is battling leukaemia, recently went on the Momentum trip to see the beautiful Christmas lights in London and also enjoyed the charity’s special Santa’s Grotto Christmas party, along with his younger brother Ross, aged six, and his parents.
Sam, who lives in Woking with his family, was diagnosed with leukaemia just weeks before Christmas in 2013 when he was just five years old. Since then Sam and his family have been supported by Momentum throughout his treatment.
Three years on and the brave youngster is now going through his final course of chemotherapy, due to finish in April 2017. Although he will be at home for Christmas his mum Tamsin will be administering his medication over the holidays.
Tamsin remembers the day Sam was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
“For weeks Sam had been having aches and pains. First he had pain in his neck and the hospital suspected it might be a trapped nerve from swimming. Then he had excruciating pain in his bottom. One morning he tried to get out of bed and just couldn’t stand up.”
After carrying her son around for five days Tamsin took Sam to see a physiotherapist, who immediately referred her back to her GP for further tests.
Tamsin said: “She took one look at him and told me that this type of pain was very unusual in children.”
Tamsin and Sam were referred to St Peter’s Hospital where they immediately ran blood tests and found something was very wrong. The pain which doctors had previously suspected to be nerve pain, was in fact stemming from his bone marrow.
Tamsin said: “Basically we went in and we didn’t come back out. I was in total shock.”
It was the start of a long journey for Sam and his family, involving regular hospital visits, chemotherapy, transfusions and steroid treatment.
“In the beginning I was in complete denial,” said Tamsin. “Even when we got to the Royal Marsden I was hoping someone would say it was all a big mistake and send him home.”
Momentum came into the family’s lives shortly after Sam’s diagnosis. With their links with local hospitals including St Peter’s in Chertsey, families are referred to the charity for support during the most difficult time of their lives.
Momentum also recently completed a £52,000 refurbishment project at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, transforming the children’s cancer unit there.
Sam spent the first Christmas after his diagnosis recovering at home after gruelling treatment. By his second Christmas, in spite of his continuing battle with leukaemia, he was well enough to go on Momentum’s Golden Bus Trip – an annual Christmas event when the charity takes dozens of sick children, siblings and parents on a fun-filled festive trip to see the Christmas lights in Regent Street.
Tamsin said: “It was such a magical trip. We went on this amazing golden bus and then onto the Rainforest Café in London. It was so lovely to spend the day with other families who really understood what we were going through, and just have fun.”
And she added: “The wonderful thing about Momentum is that they always make sure to include the whole family in any trips or treats. I have always treated both my boys fairly, despite Sam’s illness and I love that Momentum understands how important this is.”
Momentum also sent the family tickets to see England play at Wembley and in April 2015 when Sam was well enough the family had a week’s break at one of Momentum’s New Forest holiday homes.
“That was a wonderful holiday,” remembers Tamsin. “Sam had had a month of treatment and it had been a tough time. I just felt like my head was down the whole time. I don’t think I really lifted my head up and allowed myself to breathe properly and actually let go until that holiday. There was a pool and we were near the beach, and for the first time in ages we just felt like a normal family having fun.”
In addition to offering support on the end of the phone Momentum also has a dedicated Family Support Worker Rebecca Gilligan at St Peter’s Hospital who visits once a week to talk to families like the Sharlands about ways in which the charity can help. Rebecca herself has a child who has battled cancer, so she knows firsthand how it feels.
Tamsin said: “Just having someone to talk when you’re low is so important and Bex knew exactly what we were going through. Her support has been invaluable.”
And she added: “Momentum’s refurb of Little Oaks Ward is just stunning. It makes such a difference to our visits to hospital and sometimes I even have trouble tearing the boys away from the games. Sam loves playing FIFA and Ross loves the crafts. It’s so special having a dedicated play area for the children.”
And she added: “I cannot put into words how much Momentum has supported us. Just knowing they are there for us on the end of the phone means so much.”