Childhood cancer – the “virtual” friend perspective. Guest Blog by Christa Harrison

We’d “known” each other for years.  Met on a parenting website.  Matching aged girls,  similar religious beliefs,  and just generally got along.  It continued as things like Facebook happened,  seeing snippets of each other’s lives,  comments,  not really big meaningful talks but a friend all the same.

Then Aillidh had a bruise.  Something was off about the statuses,  something was clearly worrying them more than a child with a bruise.  The message came filtered through the friendship tree. “Aillidh has cancer.”

I got home and held my baby girl close.  I looked at her and could not even begin to comprehend what my friend was feeling.  My words seemed so empty.  I normally have too many words,  but this time,  there were none.

I was also caught up in my own life.  Adam was “just” ill, then it was cancer (“good cancer” as he always called it – there was a cure without chemo).  I felt my world rocked with his diagnosis and again had no clue how to even consider understanding her world.  How magnified was that pain when it is your baby?

But it would be ok, right?  In the end.  They would go through hell but they do bone marrow transplants and chemo and things for leukemia?  Acute Myeloid Leukemia though, as I was soon to realise, wasn’t like the others.  Added in that she was mixed race,  there was then the push for finding a stem cell bone marrow donor who could fill that narrow percentage match.

The internet did its thing.  We pushed for people to register with Antony Nolan,  we raised money for her unit,  for somewhere close for her parents to stay,  for anything they could need.  Woolly Hugs got to work crocheting squares across the country so that Aillidh,  this innocent 8 year old girl,  could be hugged by all the “strangers” who cared.  We played Call Me Maybe, her favourite song of the time,  and we hoped.

I celebrated my daughter’s ninth birthday with friends and family. Aillidh celebrated hers with tubes and nurses.

Finally,  finally,  there was a match.  She was so weak,  so small,  but there was a match.  It would be over!

Then came the infections,  her tiny body needed to be able to heal them at the same time.  We clung to hope,  this collection of virtual friends and I.  We prayed to any god that we thought might listen.

I was at a party when I got the call.  I remember my world going silent and me sliding to the ground.  I didn’t know that my heart could break for a child I’d never held,  and a friend I had never met.

It always feels very selfish,  like it is claiming another’s grief,  like when celebrities die.  But my heart aches for Leigh every day.  I post statuses about my daughter and think “she should be having this.” I came across a comment recently on an old status where we were discussing what they would be like as teenagers and I’m angry that that was taken from them.  I hear Call Me Maybe and sing loudly, with tears streaming.

Then, last year, my son came home from school…  “Felix has cancer.” I held him so tightly.  My mind spun.  Not again.  I didn’t know you,  but my heart reached out to you.

Every year I run, climb, crawl to raise money,  every year there are new names,  but it is always, always, Aillidh at the heart.

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