School one day, hospital the next…

Yesterday afternoon, Poppy had her first settling in session at school. She was excited about it all morning, but this gave way to nervousness as we walked up from the carpark and we stopped for a shoulders-squared “it’s okay to be scared doing new things, but I know how brave you are” pep talk before continuing. It did the trick. She spent a happy hour with her new classmates and the current reception class and came out beaming from ear to ear at collection time. So much so that several other parents commented on her beautiful smile! The sense of relief at hearing her tell me she loved it, before I even had a chance to ask was immense. I may have braved that pep talk, but inside I was as broken as she was watching her excited smile falter, whilst also knowing that she needed to take this big brave step. A braver step than most given how much she has already braved to reach those school gates.

I clearly remember on the day of her diagnosis, being told that she had Leukaemia at lunchtime and then being given time to adjust to this news before a further meeting with more information was arranged for later that day. It was in that 4pm meeting that the length of treatment was first mentioned – the second biggest shock of the day. Poppy was 7 weeks past her 3rd birthday, yet we were being asked to contemplate a life in which she would be starting school 18 months later, still in active treatment. School wasn’t even on our radar at the time. We were only 4 weeks into pre-school life and were a million miles away from the world of school. It was impossible to imagine, at a time when we didn’t yet know her chances of even surviving this. Leukaemia was so new to us in that moment, that we had absolutely no idea of what might be to come beyond the next dose of medicine. We lived each hour in our hospital bubble and tried to make it through each day in turn, without contemplating too far into the future.

That future is now our present, and I simply cannot believe that we are here. That diagnosis day is still so vivid, and yet here we are, watching her walk through those school gates, simply bursting with pride. Some of the other parents know what else she is facing alongside starting school, others have yet to find out. Seeing her lined up with the other children in her class, they will be shocked to learn that she has cancer. And to learn that the day after her first settling in session at school, she was back in the familiarity of the hospital for another intrathecal dose of chemotherapy via a lumbar puncture in her spine. Seeing her brave these events in turn as she does, I need to remind myself of these moments, when I wobble about how she will cope at school alongside her treatment. It’s not the start to school life we imagined for her, but there is no point imagining a parallel Poppy when the one we have in reality is smashing her way through life, cancer or not. A year ago she was relearning how to walk. Yesterday she walked herself through those school gates, without a glimpse of what she has encountered in order to get there.

Today, yet another nurse told us how bravely Poppy faces her treatment and how she is in absolute awe of the way she continues to have her port accessed without flinching, even from the very first time she had to do it. Especially given how young she was at the time. It reminded me how much Poppy has grown and thrived during her treatment and also how much she has had to endure. Her beads of courage are an incredible reminder of that and they will definitely be going into school at some point to help others to understand the journey she has been on so far.

Poppy, I hope you won’t always have so much to balance. I hope the strength you’ve gained so early on will always stay with you, but never be needed in such quantities again. Poppy and Daisy, I hope you always greet life with the wonder and smiles you do right now and that you always know how very, very proud you both make us every day xx

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