They say lightning never strikes twice? For us it struck twice in the form of a cancer diagnosis twice in a month. First, in October 2011 my husband’s father was diagnosed with bowl cancer with 0% chance of survival with four months to live. A month later on November 15th our eldest child Senni’s nausea which had lasted for a few weeks was discovered to have been caused by a brain tumour in her cerebellum.
Our first thought was that children with cancer only exist in the charity fundraising concerts such as Elämä Lapselle on television. The second though was the realisation that my child might die. I shouted at the doctors: Our Senni isn’t going to die, is she?! Neither one of the doctors could guarantee that she wouldn’t, but they promised to everything they could that she wouldn’t.
Senni was only four and a half years old and her little sister had just turned two when the second life of our family began. Everything changed, Senni had to miss her child minder, day care and her hobbies and I had to quit work.
Hospital became our second home and our family was divided into two. One of the parents stayed with Senni at the hospital and the other one stayed at home with her little sister. The tumour was operated on and almost all of it was removed. The tumour was of a very rare kind and aggressive, so the treatment had to begin straight away. Before Christmas Senni got her first course of chemotherapy. And straight after the new year her second and third.
We settled into a routine, dad went to work, the little sister went back to the child minder and I spent time with Senni at the hospital or at home. We made a lot of new friends at the hospital and the treatments worked well. In February 2012 there was no sign of the tumour anymore but because this was an aggressive tumour, we had to finish all the treatments. All in all six courses of chemotherapy, 30 courses of radiation therapy under general anaesthetic and an autologous stem cell transplant. After all this there was a full year of isolation to prevent infections.
In April, three days after Senni’s 5th birthday her grandfather passed away. While his daughter was being treated for cancer, my husband had to carry his father into the grave. Senni’s last course of treatment was in August, after which begun recovery from a taxing course of treatments. During her isolation phase we spent a lot of time with other cancer child families, we had a large support network of family and friends, and a little girl who had been Senni’s very best friend since they were small was with Senni every step of the way.
We were very much looking forward to August 2013. Senni would start pre school and I would go back to work. While we were waiting for a normal life to resume, we bought a summer home where we spent our weekends in that spring. At times Senni was complaining of pains in her legs and her back, which I reported to the hospital in a panic. The pains were normal growing pains for a six year old.
In May we faced another big issue when Senni’s infusion port on her chest was to be removed. There was a setback due to an infection. And then, suddenly Senni’s aunt passed away. Once again, while his child was battling cancer, my husband this time carried his sister to the grave. I couldn’t help but think; these things come in threes.
In June we were finally able to have the infusion port removed and everything was supposed to be fine. Until a week later Senni was in agony one evening, screaming because she had a pain in her leg. We left for the hospital straight away and in the morning the neurologist wanted to examine Senni. The result came back: there’s something there, we’ll do a scan after the midsummer. The MRI scan was done before midsummer and I knew the disease had come back. We got the results before the midsummer: it had spread to her back and there were growths in her head as well, which would never be completely removed. I went home while dad stayed in the hospital with Senni. When Senni got home, she sat on my lap and crying, she said: I’m sorry mum what happened to my friend happened to me. Her friend who was the same age whose cancer had also come back.
The midsummer was spent at the summer home in a haze, and from there we went straight to the hospital. They tried to slow down the progression if the disease and Senni received radiation therapy for her pain. One of the tumours on her back was removed in an operation to alleviate her pain. Senni received chemotherapy and we were all waiting for a miracle that never came.
In March, shortly before Senni’s 7th birthday she went in for her last MRI scan which revealed the disease hard spread further. We began to treat her pain and started planning her last birthday party. The party lasted for several days. We had a party where we invited other children with cancer to, the hospital arranged for a magician to perform at our home and a limousine took us to see the dress rehearsal of The Voice of Finland. Mike Monroe gave Senni a birthday present and had arranged a surprise happy birthday song performed by the judges and the band. The party was something to remember and perfect, but at the same time awful because we knew it would be her last.
Senni was getting more tired, but was very much looking forward the friendly match of FC Inter where children with cancer would walk the player onto the pitch. It was clear to Senni that she would walk onto the pitch her friend Severi Paajanen. And so they stepped onto the pitch with Severi pushing Senni in a wheelchair. Senni was feeling ok during the match but on the way home she was tired and was getting more so by the day.
We went to visit Zoolandia zoo, and that would be our last outing together. I knew that the next time we would leave home would the last time and that happened on the eve of May Day. Senni wanted to go to the hospital because she was in pain. We didn’t want her end of life care to take place at home, either. We wanted to be mum and dad until the very end.
Senni was on strong painkillers and for the most part she was asleep. Her little sister visited her every day in hospital, even on the very last day before Senni passed. On May 22nd, early in the evening Senni went with the wind to meet her granddad, her auntie and too many of her friends in heaven. Our first feeling was that of relief; she wasn’t in pain anymore and the cancer didn’t go with her.
What was left to do was to arrange Senni’s funeral, her last party. The whole family, Senni’s godparents and friends were helping to make the party look the way she would’ve wanted it to look. For the third year running, my husband was carrying a coffin. This time it was our daughter.
To quote my friend; Senni was the world’s smallest adult, a big small person who was always looking after others. My darling child, we will meet again!