Every 16 minutes in the UK someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. This devastating news changes the lives of mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and families in seconds. Below is an open letter to all of our supporters from Callan and her family. Callan and her husband James have lived through the unimaginable, losing their son Henry to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

At Leukaemia UK our focus for 2022 and beyond is to stop leukaemia devastating the lives of families like the Bretts. We are working tirelessly to support researchers finding kinder, more effective treatments for those diagnosed with blood cancer.

As Callan says, 'something good’ must come from losing Henry and by supporting Leukaemia UK today, your gift could be key to our mission.

Even with a small donation, you are enabling lifesaving research to take place. Thank you so much for your support.

A note from Fiona Hazell, CEO of Leukaemia UK:

I know that Callan’s letter will touch Leukaemia UK supporters, especially those of us who have also lost loved ones to blood cancer. I would like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to Callan and to her husband James for courageously sharing their story. No child should have to suffer like Henry did. And no family should have to lose a child in this way. That’s why we’re funding over 20 research projects and clinical trials across the UK, all focused on delivering new treatments for leukaemia. 

A letter to you, our supporter:

Please note: This letter gives an insider’s perspective on childhood leukaemia and bereavement

Last Christmas, my husband James and I were looking forward to welcoming our little son Henry home from hospital. We couldn’t wait…

Last December, James and I made a short film for Leukaemia UK about our son Henry, who - at just 14 months - had been battling acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) for almost half of his life. Perhaps you remember seeing the clip on YouTube or even donating?

At that time, Henry had already endured four rounds of chemotherapy and I’d spent months on the ward with him during lockdown, away from James and my older son, Theodore. We couldn’t wait to get back together as a family again - and we were all so excited for Christmas.

This year however, we have very different feelings. Because while Henry did make it home to spend Christmas with us, running around and being cheeky as usual, he went on to suffer infection after infection, and in May this year he passed away while the country was still in lockdown. James had the almost impossible task of telling Theodore that his little brother wasn’t going to wake up again. It was - and still is - devastating.

Writing this letter is incredibly hard, but I agreed to do it because I firmly believe that something good must come from Henry’s death. We cannot have lost him for no reason and we cannot stand by knowing that more research and better care could spare another family from his type of heartbreak. Will you donate to Leukaemia UK today to help make that difference?

Henry went through so much in his short life but he never acted like he was sick. He always had a cheeky look on his face, even when he’d just thrown up. In hospital, he’d run up and down the ward in his little walker and give himself a little clap when he took his medication. He was just a ‘loving life’ kind of toddler. Many of the nurses would pop in just to say goodnight to him - and to collect the pens he’d ‘stolen’ from them when they’d taken their observations.

I really thought we were going to be one of those families who would get out and live our lives again; I really subscribed to that. Henry had nothing removed, nothing to disfigure him. He never had radiotherapy or a stem cell transplant or things harvested and put back into his body. But I came to understand that while we - as parents - worried about cancer as ‘the evil we know’, Henry’s doctors worried about infection, because that’s the evil they know. Cancer really is just the start.

In hospital, this risk of infection meant that every round of chemo involved a 35-day cycle; one week of treatment followed by four weeks of isolation, mostly in a small room with a window that didn’t open and no natural light. I couldn’t wait to take Henry home between rounds, but that meant managing Hickman lines, and giving midnight meds, and taking temperatures 24/7. Furlough was the only blessing of Covid-19 as it meant James and I could at least both be home to care for Henry and to give Theodore the time he needed, while also supporting each other.

We gave it everything we had, but nothing that we or the doctors could do could stop Henry suffering infection after infection, fever after fever. Then he developed a rash that eventually joined up all over his body and his skin began to peel. Towards the end, he had diarrhoea and started vomiting blood. It was brutal. And it was so unfair.

What James and I want now is for children like Henry to not just survive their cancer treatment but to be less ill when in remission. And of course, for them to pull through so that their families can stay together. But this will not happen without the research breakthroughs that Leukaemia UK-funded scientists are striving for in labs up and down the country.

I really hope you’ll be able to get behind these brilliant researchers today by making a donation. I find it’s good to do something positive because it takes the edge off feeling so angry. It’s nobody’s fault but I still feel robbed of everything. I feel robbed of support, due to Covid and lockdown. Robbed of time with Theodore and with my husband. Robbed of little enjoyments... And of course, robbed of Henry.

Every time I take Theodore out I’m still thinking ‘I should have eyes on two’. But as we move through more seasons, and pass more milestones, I hope things might become a little bit easier. To see kinder treatments coming out of the lab and into the clinic would be encouraging too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my letter. I hope I have done justice to Henry in writing it and that you’ll join me in supporting Leukaemia UK this Christmas.

With thanks and warm wishes,

Callan Brett

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