It was like any other Tuesday evening as Lisa Streeter bustled around, making tea for the kids and fretting about the state of the house.
And then came the phone call that would throw her family into turmoil and bring this comfortably familiar domestic scene to a halt.
Lisa was told that her 10-month-old daughtter, Paige, needed to be taken to hospital immediately.
There the family learned that the little girl had a form of leukaemia and needed to be treated straight away or she may not survive.
‘The phone rang and I was thrown into panic. I’d been making tea, the house was a complete mess and I was having to pack a bag to take my little girl to hospital,’ says Lisa.
‘And all the time I was looking at her thinking “what’s wrong with you? She looked absolutely fine.’
Paige’s dad, Russell, was working in London and trying to get home as quickly as possible and Lisa also had to find someone to look after their three-year-old son Samuel.
In hospital Paige was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the blood where white blood cells continuously multiply and crowd out other cells.
The abnormal cells won’t help the patient fight infections and the condition can spread and also causes damage to the organs.
Although Paige looked well, her white blood cell count was so high she needed emergency treatment.
And the Fareham family’s lives changed forever.
‘It was like someone had punched me in the gut,’ says Lisa. ‘You stop breathing, you stop thinking, it doesn’t make any sense.
‘Leukaemia is something you hear about, but it doesn’t happen to you. All I could think was that this is something children don’t get through. I thought she was going to die and she was only 10 months old.’
Now three, Paige is a lively child, with a head full of curls, extremely advanced speech and a fondness for Haribo sweets.
‘She reminds me to bring them, in case she has to be brave,’ laughs Lisa.
But the little girl has had to fight illness and pain and, because her sub-type of leukaemia is rare in her age group, prognosis is difficult.
Paige was first given blood tests after contracting an infection while the family were visiting Lisa’s parents in Trinidad. A doctor there noticed something wasn’t quite right.
But after recovering, Paige was her usually bubbly self, just a little tired at times.
So the eventual diagnosis was a shock. ‘There starts our journey,’ says Lisa. ‘We’ve got a 10-month-old child who may not make it to her first birthday and a three-year-old boy.
‘And no-one can tell you whether she’ll live or die.’
But the family have adapted with the help of friends and charities that have proved a vital source of support.
One of these is Wessex Cancer Trust, which has offered Lisa counselling sessions.
During chemotherapy, Paige became very ill. ‘She was frail, bald, sick. She had no energy, didn’t want to eat. You feel like you’re watching your child wither away,’ says Lisa.
At one point Paige picked up on Lisa’s anxiety and only wanted her dad, so Russell took time off work.
Lisa says the Wessex Cancer Trust counselling is tailored to her needs.
‘You go through this journey,’ she explains. ‘When your child is diagnosed, it’s like being hit by a freight train. Then you’re focused on looking after this little child and giving her the best chance possible to get well.
‘Then comes the end of treatment and a different set of anxieties.’
Paige has just finished her treatment, looks well and the family are hopeful. But it’s now a waiting game to see if the leukaemia will return.
‘It doesn’t matter about us,’ says Lisa, ‘but the thought of her going through that again is crippling.’
And Lisa is learning a new role. ‘I’ve been a nurse, counsellor and now I have to focus on being a mum. Paige hasn’t been disciplined because if she was grumpy it was because she wasn’t well.
‘The counselling is helping me to focus on the things we can do and not keep worrying if things like potty training are a little delayed.’
The family have also received help from The Rainbow Trust, which provides support workers for siblings, and Samuel has benefited greatly.
Now five, he is a very caring, popular and happy child. But during periods when Paige was in hospital, having his mum pick him up from school was a rare treat.
‘That was a big thing for us. Once when I’d picked him up, he kissed me on the cheek and said ‘‘mummy I love you so much’’. I thought ‘‘how are we going to keep doing this?’’’ says Lisa.
Samuel is very important to Paige because he makes her laugh. When she was very ill all she wanted to wear his fluffy tractor-print pyjamas. ‘I think it made her feel close to him,’ says Lisa.
Russell and Lisa agree that it’s the strength of their children that has kept them going.
‘Paige is so brave and independent. She tells us she’s going to be okay,’ says Lisa.
Now they are a happy family, enjoying visits to the park. But they still need the vital support that cancer charities can offer.
WESSEX CANCER TRUST
The Streeter family have received help from several charities, including Wessex Cancer Trust.
The trust supports cancer patients and their families in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands.
It has centres in areas including Southampton and Winchester and is planning to open new bases in Portsmouth and Bournemouth by the end of the year.
Chief executive Sally Hall explains that services are available to people across the whole region, but a new Portsmouth centre will bring them closer to home for the area’s residents.
The trust offers counselling and alternative therapies than can help with pain management.
And its bases are also drop-in centres, where patients and their families can pop in and speak to volunteers.
‘They can have a cup of coffee and chat, it’s very relaxed,’ says Sally. ‘We want people to walk in and have that immediate feeling of ‘‘I’m safe’’. A lot of our volunteers have been through cancer and are there to listen, help and advise.’
The charity also offers grants, transport and the use of holiday homes. ‘In some cases it can be the family’s last holiday together,’ says Sally.
For information visit wessexcancer.org or call (023) 8067 2200.