Seven-year-old Zebastian faced a gruelling fight against cancer and, even though he’s in remission, Satan’s Little Helper thought he deserved some recognition for his bravery, strength and smiles throughout his journey.
It wasn’t only cancer that nearly killed Zebastian. In hospital, he contracted a severe strep virus and almost went into kidney failure from another infection.
“Both cases were life-threatening,” explains his dad, Aaron.
“The one silver lining was that the strep happened near the end of his treatment and meant his chest line had to be removed,” says his mum, Deirdere “which actually made life more comfortable for him.”
Fighting his battles
Zebastian also developed appendicitis after his first chemo cycle and needed immediate surgery to remove an appendix that was close to rupturing.
It was extra tricky to treat him because of the type of cancer he had – acute myeloid leukaemia with an abnormality in his 11th chromosome. Normally found in adults, and only recorded in two other cases across the globe, doctors considered giving him a bone marrow transplant.
“We got lucky,” says Deirdere, “because new research had just been released which showed there was no evidence that a bone marrow transplant would increase Zebastian’s chances of beating his cancer.”
However, his treatment was no less arduous. As Zebastian showed leukaemia in both his blood stream and central nervous system, he required chemotherapy via a line directly into his heart and multiple lumbar punctures directly into his spine. After a gruelling period of five treatment cycles, Zebastian went into remission.
“I’ll never forget the time we spent in Starship Hospital,” says Deirdere. “We tried to keep his life as normal as possible. The nurses on that ward are amazing. If it wasn’t for them, we would have gone stir-crazy. I can’t sing their praises enough!”
That time in hospital took a severe physical toll on her little boy, says Deirdere.
“His fitness and hand-eye coordination are behind kids his age because he was bedridden for his whole treatment. Before we got out of hospital, he was walking with a Zimmer frame and he had wispy white hair because it had just started to grow it back. He looked just like Benjamin Button!”
Thanks to a pull-out bed in his room, either Aaron or Deirdere were able to sleep at his bedside every night. While Zebastian was fighting his own battles, his parents were also under immense pressure.
“The psychological and financial trauma it puts you under is massive,” says Aaron. “For a start, Deirdere gave up her job. Straight away we went from a dual income to a single income family. Additionally, the family is split in half – your whole world is turned upside down.”
Love of art
Life is thankfully a lot more normal now, and, in recognition of his struggles, Satan’s Little Helper sent him an art kit to improve his hand-eye coordination and help him occupy his creative mind now that he’s on the road to recovery.
“He absolutely loves the art set! It’s so much bigger than the average kit and he’s got so many choices for equipment to use, including an easel we took on holiday with us.
“It’s been so rewarding to see him drawing and experimenting with colours. He really likes to get creative! For example, if he’s drawing a sky, he’ll do a big rainbow one instead of a traditional blue sky with white clouds.”
“I love my art kit,” says Zebastian, who is now back at school and keeping up with his peers. “I haven’t got a favourite thing to draw – I love it all!”