IT took several months of GPs and specialists saying everything was completely fine before Samantha Dennoui first took her son Noah to Monash Children’s Hospital Cancer Centre.
“Noah came to me with a little lump right under his collarbone that you really, really had to dig for,” Ms Dennoui said.
“I spoke to my mum because my brother died prematurely of cancer and she made me do a quick Google of symptoms and it was things like weight loss, fatigue and all the things he didn’t have.”
Noah and his mum attended a GP to make sure it wasn’t anything serious and were told that he had no suspicious symptoms, that it was a swollen lymph node but to come back if it got worse.
“Three weeks later he was walking past and I actually could see the lump as he moved his neck, with all the tendons you could see it in between and I thought ‘I might need to go get it checked out again’,” Ms Dennoui said.
After several months of waiting and monitoring the lump continued to grow.
When Ms Dennoui entered the Monash children’s oncology ward, she received a call from their GP informing her that there was a large growth impinging his lung.
“Noah has a mass on his lung running on the right side of his body and the mass in his neck is on the left side which is not what lymphoma normally does,” the oncologist said.
The development of cancer in children is still poorly understood and without clear symptoms, early diagnosis remains a difficult medical problem.
New research by the Leukaemia Foundation has revealed four in five Australians aren’t confident they can identify blood cancer symptoms — while just under a third weren’t sure they would go to their doctor if they had symptoms.
Blood cancer figures continue to rise year on year in Australia, with blood cancers combined recently confirmed to be the second most diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the country.
However, soon after the appointment, Noah’s health deteriorated suddenly; his skin turned grey, he complained of his hair burning, and he was nearly catatonic.
In November 2019, he was diagnosed with a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Noah was given a range of treatment options including immunotherapy and chemotherapy.
The doctor told the family ‘the protocol we’re about to give your son is the worst protocol we’ve got, it’s the absolute kitchen sink and we’re going to put him to the brink of death to bring him back but it has a one hundred per cent success rate’.
Noah underwent six months of heavy chemotherapy followed by a gruelling 12 months of chemo maintenance therapy to combat a high chance of relapse specific to anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Noah is now in full remission with frequent tests to monitor his progress.
Ms Dennoui said she had no idea what signs or symptoms she should have noticed when Noah first became unwell with cancer of the blood.
“I don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else, where everyone was reassuring us,” she said.
“I didn’t know the signs and even when the signs were there everyone was telling me it wasn’t a possibility.
“We almost lost him because everyone was so hellbent on the idea that children can’t have cancer.”
September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
Elliot is a freelance print and radio journalist with a passion for experimental radio fiction, podcasting and international affairs.