The Collins-Clark Family (Josh’s Story)
September 11, 2023
The Collins-Clark Family
2020 was a difficult year for lots of us amid a global pandemic but even more so for one family from Sheffield. In June 2020 Harriet Clark, Ben Collins and their 2 children Finley, then 6, and Josh, 4, travelled to Poole in Dorset to be with Harriet’s father in the final stages of his life following a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Harriet’s father sadly died on June 27th, around the same time as Josh had been complaining of feeling unwell with a temperature, sore throat, tiredness, and leg pain. Having ruled out Covid, the family were advised to take Josh to A&E for a check-up suspecting a virus of some kind. However, following a full blood count the medics at the hospital very quickly shared with the family that they strongly suspected he was suffering with leukaemia. He was immediately admitted and started on antibiotics and fluids.
“It was a huge shock on top of what we’d already been through that week with my dad dying of cancer,” said Harriet. “There was no time to process it though, I had to park that grief to just get through what was happening with Josh. We just wanted to get back to Sheffield and so the next day after a blood transfusion in Poole, Josh and I were whizzed 230 miles up to Sheffield Children’s Hospital in an ambulance whilst Ben drove Finley back home.”
Within days, Josh had a more detailed diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer that starts from white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow. It affects around 325 children a year in the UK and is caused by a genetic mutation which releases immature white blood cells into the blood.
“Despite the seriousness of the diagnosis, the prognosis for ALL is generally quite good with Josh’s age and genetic profile”, said Harriet. “A treatment plan was put in place which included just over 3 years of treatment involving chemotherapy and high dose steroids spread across different phases, which would finish in August 2023.”
Josh, who was due to start primary school in September 2020, instead began the rollercoaster of a gruelling treatment plan which started with months of intensive chemotherapy. Talking about the impact of the treatment, Harriet said “At times it was just awful for him and us, the high dose steroids especially had some bad side effects. There were times when he could barely walk, he got an infection in his leg requiring an operation to remove a cyst and he lost his hair during the chemo. This all happened during a time when we were in and out of Covid lockdowns too, which meant the situation regarding infections was particularly difficult as was the isolation from our support networks.”
Whilst Josh was undergoing the first year of his treatment programme, Harriet and Ben were made aware of Cavendish Cancer Care via some friends. They felt that Finley would benefit from some counselling and found that they could access it via Cavendish.
“It was really difficult for Finley too”, said Harriet. “His life was affected in so many ways that year – not only due to Josh’s diagnosis and his grandfather’s death, but also school closures due to Covid-19 and of course me not being as present due to spending so much time at treatment with Josh.”
“He had some fantastic play therapy with Helen at Cavendish, all delivered via Zoom due to Covid, and later both boys had further sessions at the Tim Pryor Centre. It was the one appointment that I think they looked forward to – a special time to play and chat, very different to our hospital appointments.”
Harriet was also able to access counselling for herself from therapists at Cavendish Cancer Care, and felt that it helped to validate her feelings and enable her and Ben to parent better through the challenges of Josh’s treatment.
After 3 gruelling years, Josh has this August finished his treatment programme and is cancer free! To celebrate, and to raise money for Cavendish Cancer Care and also the brilliant team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Ben and Harriet along with a group of friends and family are taking on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge in September 2023.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge takes on the peaks of Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Ingleborough (723 metres) in under 12 hours.
“It’s certainly going to be a challenge for us and we’ve all got our fingers crossed for good weather on the day, but hopefully it will be good fun too,” said Harriet. “We’ve done some fundraising already for Cavendish and for Sheffield Children’s Hospital, but we felt like this would be a great ‘full stop’ to mark the end of the 3 years of treatment and raise more money for the two charities. The care and support we’ve had from both has been tremendous. The team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital have been incredible in their professionalism and real dedication to getting Josh better, whilst the support from Cavendish gave help to the whole family which I know will have long-lasting benefits to us as a family.”
Harriet’s Just Giving page for the Three Peaks Challenge can be found here: