Head's Blog - Relay for Life (by Mrs. Vatsa)

Posted on: 07/09/2018

My youngest son, Anand, was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was only 2 years old, still in nappies and barely talking. He is now a boundless 5 year old, having completed 3.5 years of treatment. This long journey has taken place while we’ve been a part of the St. Helen’s College community, as Anand’s older brother Vandan had just started in Reception when we received the diagnosis. 

When Mrs Drummond asked me if we’d like to write about Anand’s treatment journey, I wasn’t sure what from this long story I should write about. During the candle lighting ceremony at the Cancer Research Relay for Life event that the school participated in last weekend, one of the speakers talked at length about hope. I reflected on this and realised that hope wasn’t the thing that resonated most in Anand’s story - it was more resilience, and the positive attitude of a young child who doesn’t really understand negativity. It’s not resilience born of grit or bloody mindedness, more an acceptance of what is, and letting go of what happens.

I know the children learn Mindfulness at school, which is in part about “being present” - children have an innate ability to live in the here and now. Whatever Anand went through, he would let it go. He never let one moment of pain or discomfort ruin the next. If he was 'nil by mouth', it was forgotten the second he could tuck into his cheese sandwich; if he’d had an unpleasant procedure it was forgotten as soon as a sticker was offered, and the adults involved were forgiven immediately. Self-pity very rarely featured. I don’t recall Anand ever expressing regret or anger for what he had to go through or allowing it to ruin what could be. He spent most of his time playing and making mischief like any other little boy, and no one would guess he was any different. 

Our neighbour has an elderly sister who is sadly enduring cancer treatment and not coping with it very well. This neighbour came to me for motivation for her sister, knowing how well Anand had coped. I think so much of it came down to his acceptance. Anand didn’t know any better, so just accepted it all. My neighbour’s sister can’t change that she has cancer and can’t really change the treatment she has to endure. To learn anything from Anand, it would be that she can change the mindset with which she bears it. She can dwell on the pain and injustice or she can seek joy and distraction elsewhere - as a child, Anand instinctively chose the latter. We are our children’s teachers, but this highlights to me how much we can learn from our children. They are naturally spirited, full of joy, curiousity, play and adventure. Why sit and mope when there are adventures to be had? 

I can’t not mention Anand’s older brother Vandan, who had only just turned 5 when Anand got sick. Through the years of treatment, Vandan has shown similar spirit and resilience. He showed this every time he woke up to find Anand and I had disappeared in the night to the hospital, when plans were waylaid, outings missed, holidays weren’t booked, or he was on the receiving end of Anand’s steroid-induced aggressions. Anand was so often the focus of attention, but Vandan chose to help look after his little brother, and chose to put Anand before himself, rather than complain. He’s the other hero in our story! 

It’s strange to think unwitting young children can inspire and motivate us grown ups, but to my initial surprise Anand seems to have. I can’t control what happens to me, but only I can control how I deal with it. I’ve always believed we play the hand we are dealt, and now Anand is my shining example of how to do this. 

Unsurprisingly, Vandan was enthused to be involved in writing about Anand’s treatment for the newsletter. Vandan wanted to write about the Relay for Life event. So, over to Vandan.... 

On Saturday 1st September, my family and I went to the Harrow Relay for Life, organised by Cancer Research UK.  When we got there, we had a little look around, and we found the St. Helen’s College stall.  Working on the stall were Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin, Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Stark, Miss Dear and lots of others. On their stall, you could decorate lanterns to light in the evening. Soon after we got there, they gathered everybody together to start the relay. All the cancer survivors were given purple t-shirts to wear, including Anand. As the Deputy Mayor was late, they asked Anand if he would like to cut the ribbon as he was the youngest survivor there. Unfortunately, the Mayor did arrive! Luckily, he asked Anand to cut the ribbon with him, and then off we went walking…as slowly as snails! We walked around the track once, with the St. Helen's team and the St. Helen’s banner – we even got to hold it. After our lap, we got to sit on a blow up sofa in the middle of the track – Mrs. Drummond and I wore a purple wig! We then went to have a go at the activities on the stall and get some food.  Luke won amazing VIRTUAL REALITY GLASSES on one of the stalls!  Well done Luke!  Not many of my other friends were there because their parents must have forgotten – I’m pointing at you mums and dads! 

I’m sure they raised lots of money for children and adults with cancer. Mrs. Drummond said St. Helen's College raised lots of money this year.  Well done to everyone at St. Helen's College!

Mrs. Vatsa