'The guilt eats away at me every day' - Wakefield mum shares heartbreaking story of son's cancer diagnosis for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

A Wakefield mum has shared the heartbreaking story of her son's cancer diagnosis, admitting she had 'literally zero concerns' when she first took him in for a blood test.

By Holly Gittins
Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd September 2020, 3:38 pm
A Wakefield mum has shared the heartbreaking story of her son's cancer diagnosis, admitting she had 'literally zero concerns' when she first took him in for a blood test. Pictured is Oliver with parents James and Laura. Photo: SWNS

Laura Stephenson's son Oliver was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer, in January 2019, at the age of four.

The four-year-old has since been through a battery of tests and treatments, including a course of chemotherapy earlier this year which saw him unable to leave his hospital ward for a month.

As part of Childhood Cancer Awareness month, Laura has now shared the story of her son's diagnosis in the hopes that it could save another child's life.

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Oliver Stephenson, 4, pictured left with brother Alfie prior to diagnosis and right during treatment at Leeds General Infirmary earlier this year.

Laura and husband James first became concerned about Oliver's health in early January 2019.

She said: "When Oliver first looked poorly it was nothing more than a quick conversation along the lines of ‘he looks a bit pale and his eyes look dark. I think he’s anaemic. I’ll book a blood test’.

"That was it. They were our signs.

"Oliver's teacher has noticed it and so had we, but nothing else was wrong with our little boy.

"I arranged the blood test on a Wednesday. I didn't even think it was important enough to warrant a day off work.

"The guilt of that eats away at me every single day."

Laura, who works as a teacher, said she had "zero concerns" about the results, even when the hospital reached out to make a followup appointment within hours of the test.

"I didn't even think to check my phone that day," she said. "After a busy day of teaching and meetings I finally went to my office and looked at my phone.

"It was around 5.30pm. I had eight missed calls and a voicemail from a doctor at Leeds General Infirmary Saying they needed to see Oliver urgently.

"Still the alarm bells didn't ring.

"I called the doctor back and calmly explained that we were working so would bring him in on Saturday.

"The doctor politely explained that he needed to see Oliver the following morning, so we planned for my mum to look after [his younger brother] Alfie.

"James made arrangements at his work and I made arrangements to have cover for some morning meetings I had planned.

"I remember saying ‘I have a meeting in the afternoon but I’ll be back for that’. How wrong was I? A

"After many many tests, it was on Friday, January 17 that we were told that Oliver had stage 4 cancer."

Oliver began treatment immediately, and within weeks family friends had launched a £200,000 fundraiser in the hopes of securing him a place on a clinical trial in America.

More than 11,500 people have now joined a Facebook group dedicated to supporting the family through their treatment, with hundreds of fundraising events held across Oliver's hometown of Ackworth.

But Laura hopes they can also use their position to raise awareness of the early signs of childhood cancer.

Early symptoms of neuroblastoma include fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite and bruising around the eyes, but these can be very subtle and are often mistaken for symptoms of more common childhood conditions.

Laura said: "I guess I'm telling this story because I want everyone to realise how subtle the signs can be.

"I want everyone to realise how quickly your life can be turned upside down.

"I won't apologise for posting about this over the month, because even if one person realises the signs of childhood cancer and it saves one life, then it will be worth it.

"We didn’t think this could happen to us, but it did. It can happen to anyone.

"I will use this month to raise awareness of childhood cancer because no child should have to suffer."