A mum who thought her son had bruised his back by sleeping on some Lego has spoken of her heartbreak when he was diagnosed with leukaemia just days later.
Joseph Craig is facing three years of chemotherapy after doctors found acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in his spinal cord, brain fluid and blood.
On the day he was first diagnosed, the six-year-old was given a cuddly Chemo Duck by the Give a Duck Foundation.
Since then, ‘Dave’ the duck has never left Joseph’s side, and has provided him with comfort and companionship through his gruelling treatment battle.
Now Joseph, from Berwick, Northumberland, is leading an emergency appeal for the charity after it was hit by a huge decrease in fundraising income amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The family’s nightmare began in May last year, when Joseph’s dad Tony noticed bruises on his back.
Mum Claire said: “He often falls asleep playing with Lego, so I thought he must have fallen asleep on some Lego.
“But when I put him in the bath and I saw the bruises - they were quite large and they were in strange places.
“That weekend he slept for pretty much the whole weekend, and something didn’t feel right.”
After a video consultation with a GP, the family were ultimately sent to the Northumbria hospital for a blood test, where doctors confirmed that Joseph had leukaemia.
Claire said: “When the paediatrician said he needed a blood test straight away we knew it was something worse, but we never believed that it was going to be that, never in a million years.
“It was just absolutely shocking, I remember I screamed when they said it.”
Joseph was rushed to Newcastle’s Great North Children’s Hospital, where further tests showed that he had T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a rarer form of the disease meaning he would have to have more aggressive chemotherapy.
Claire said: “They told us that the treatment would be for three years - that that was as hard as the diagnosis.
“We got moved up to Ward 4, and that’s when Chemo Duck appeared - a nurse specialist offered it to him.
“He’s never been really into cuddly toys or had a special blanket or anything, so I nearly said they should keep it for another child.
“But that duck has never left his side since that day.
“Joseph has a portacath, and Dave has one that you can take on and off, so if people ask him questions he explains via the duck.
“It’s just brought him so much peace, he relaxes when it’s there and I hear him talking to it, saying things like ‘it’s okay, we’re just going into hospital’.
“It’s almost as if him and the duck are in this together, maybe because it’s been there since day one of his diagnosis.”
Joseph has now been undergoing chemotherapy for almost a year, and has been hospitalised numerous times due to his weakened immune system.
Claire said: “It’s been the most horrific experience. You can’t plan for tomorrow, you can’t plan for an hour.
“It’s really hard on him, especially at six years old, he doesn’t understand.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like without Dave, I think it would have been so much harder for him.”
Joseph is now fronting an emergency appeal for the Give A Duck Foundation, the charity that provides Chemo Ducks for children with cancer and Huggable Hopes for their siblings.
Chemo Ducks are used by play leaders to prepare them for the many challenging, and sometimes painful treatments, they have to endure.
For more information see www.giveaduck.org.uk