In August 2012, Antti and his little brother began school; Antti went to second grade whereas his brother started first grade.
They had attended school for four days when Antti fell ill. He had a bit of fever during the weekend and when the new week at school started, he had to stay at home. I was at home with him when he told me that it hurts in his tummy. He showed me the lower part his tummy. I instantly thought about appendix and called the health center. They asked us to come there immediately. The blood tests revealed a high level of inflammation and when the doctor was pushing Antti’s tummy, he concluded that ‘there is something extra.’ We continued to the emergency room of the hospital in Lahti. There, we waited calmly for the ultrasound examination. After the ultrasound, father arrived at the hospital. We were invited to the chief physician’s office and were told that they had discovered a tumor in Antti’s kidney.
I stayed overnight with Antti in the hospital in Lahti and next morning the journey continued to Tampere. Both of us parents went with Antti.
There, things became very hectic. Antti was constantly moved from one examination to another. We spent about a week and a half in Tampere and, of that time, the only thing I can remember is that I cried all the time and the only thing I was able to ask from the doctors was whether Antti will die. The doctor answered that this possibility had to be taken into account.
During the beginning, Antti’s little brother was taken care by his grandmother at our home and was just starting his very first year at school. When we arrived back at home after the week and a half, he expressed to us how this had felt for him and had the biggest tantrum of his life.
After the initial shock, life started to flow relatively normally again. I stayed home from work to take care of Antti and our life got its rhythm from the home schooling, weekly blood tests at the hospital in Lahti, cytostastics, and so on. Antti got all the possible side effects that one can have of the cytostatics, and many nights were spent in the hospital both at Lahti and Tampere because of those.
In October 2012, the tumor and Antti’s other kidney were removed. In November-December, we were at Tampere for a long time in order to receive radiation therapy. On the First of May 2013, Antti got the last dose of cytostatics and we toasted a glass of sparkling wine for the end of the treatment, the spring and the First of May. We had many reasons for celebration! All of us had survived through a really demanding year.
We have always been a very close-knit family, spending a lot of time together. Given that the boys were born so close to each other, they have always been really good friends and it has been easy for them to do things together. Antti’s sickness changed this familiar pattern a lot because I was with Antti in the hospital and the father and little brother stayed at home. Also playing together outside of home had to be abandoned because of Antti’s elevated risk of getting infections and the necessity to stay inside.
If I think about that year of sickness now, in my memories I am always in Tampere, it is a dark November, it is raining, I am walking towards the apartment provided by SYLI, and Antti has stayed in the hospital sleeping. SYLI offers apartments for the parents whose children have cancer so that they can stay overnight in Tampere.
Nowadays, our everyday life has returned to a pretty normal family life. The children are fighting with each other, we go to buy groceries at the S-Market, we go to work and school. Every four months we visit the controls at Tampere with Antti and check that the cancer has not returned. These checks will continue until Antti is an adult and the doctors recommend that they continue throughout his life.
P.S. One important thing that has helped me to cope involves a photograph. For almost a year, Antti had a tube in his chest through which the blood samples were taken. By the way, it is a remarkable invention because it allows samples to be taken without having to be stung with the needle every time! Because of this catheter, however, Antti could not go to swim or to sauna. In June 2013, the catheter was removed and after a long wait Antti was able to go to sauna and swim at the cabin. I took a photo of him with my phone when he swam in the lake. Every time when, for example, at work I feel bad and I feel like I do not have energy, I look at the photo where Antti swims. In the picture he is still bald, and so weak after the treatments that he has water wings on his arms, even though before getting sick he was fully able to swim already. Every time I look at that picture I remember the hell we have gone through and the worries at work seem so small in comparison to that. Maybe some day I am able to look at that photo without tears in my eyes.