The Murphy Cruse family from Dublin shared their journey and their Barretstown experience with us recently.
Around this time last year, Seamus’ football coach noticed that Seamus was ‘slowing down’ and getting out of breath. His mum took him for an ultrasound at Crumlin and the scan revealed a large tumour growing in Seamus’ liver.
On 25th November 2013, surgeons operated on Seamus to remove the tumour, and also took most of his liver.
His mum, Annmarie, said “It was all a bit of a blur. You can only take so much in. I told the doctors not to sugar coat it and they said the tumour was malignant, it was cancer and it was very aggressive. Seamus would need to start cancer treatment straight away.”
On 21st December, just four days before Christmas, Seamus started chemotherapy. His mum tried her best to prepare him “we drew him pictures of the little cells in his body, and the nasty cells and told him the chemo was going to kill the nasty cells.”
On Christmas Eve, the doctors let Seamus go home from hospital, so he could spend Christmas at home with his three little sisters. But as his mum remembers that it was almost impossible to celebrate as “Seamus was so sick from the chemotherapy that he really didn’t enjoy Christmas. He spent most of it sitting on the sofa with his head in the sick bowl. We had to help him in and out of the bed. Santa left his present in his room so he wouldn’t have to go far. And he got a PlayStation, which he really wanted. I’d really hoped it would give him a lift, but he was too sick to enjoy it. It was so hard to watch.”
The next couple of months were tough on Seamus. The chemotherapy treatment left him feeling weak and sick, as the weeks went by, the treatment got harder. And Seamus had to face the trauma of losing his hair. “He went through all the pain, all the surgery, all the scares, the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and never complained about that. But he got very upset when his hair came out.”
The whole family had already been through so much, but now they saw Seamus start to change and it was really distressing.
“Seamus has always been the little peacemaker of the family,” said Annmarie, “He was heading into a dark place – starting to get depressed. He’d gone into himself. He was starting to see the negative in everything, saying ‘I can’t do anything anymore’. So he stopped trying. Seamus had turned into somebody else. He wasn’t our boy, he was somebody else.”
Seeing Seamus so low was completely heartbreaking. His family didn’t know what to do, but then they started to talk about the time they were going to spend together at Barretstown. It had been so long since they had been anywhere as a family, so even before he got here, the thought of coming to camp kept Seamus going.
Barretstown has its own unique way of helping children like Seamus. Medicine might cure their illness, but it can do very little to ease the confusion, isolation and frustration that a child might naturally feel when their lives suddenly change. Along with their strength, cancer can take away a child’s laughter and joy. Cancer can stop them playing and enjoying themselves.
Just one weekend at Barretstown had changed Seamus. The transformation was incredible.
After only a few minutes, Seamus – who had stopped going out or seeing friends – disappeared off with some of the other children at the camp. His mum and dad couldn’t believe it… “At Barretstown, all his new friends were wearing hats – they had all lost their hair, so he didn’t feel different. He had a ball.”
With the endorsement of doctors worldwide, Therapeutic Recreation is the cornerstone of every Barretstown camp. Step by step, children who are seriously ill rediscover their confidence, self-esteem and independence. They make new friends and remember what it is to be a child again. They smile. And they laugh. And they go home stronger.
Seamus brought home much more than happy memories with him. He came back with new confidence. For Annmarie, it was a huge relief. “He had stopped going to play football with his friends. But when he came back from Barretstown, he started going round with them again. It was like Seamus had gotten his confidence back. He was happy in his own skin again. He came back from Barretstown a different boy.”
2014 has been a very hard year for the Murphy Cruse family but thankfully Seamus is doing well on his road to recovery.