The difference the donation of one of The Kids’ Cancer Project Bears makes became heartbreakingly clear to Peter Northey as he watched his baby boy suffering during cancer treatment.
As a Sergeant in the NSW Police Force, Peter Northey likes to think he is fairly well hardened against the shocks life can deal out. Numerous times he has had to knock on doors of families to tell them their loved one has passed away, for example.
Peter with Eli in hospital.
“I cope well with those sorts of experiences,” he says. “I’m used to it now and even though it still makes me feel sad inside, I don’t get emotional over things like that because it’s a part of my job.”
But having to deal with the news that his baby boy had cancer, he says, was another matter altogether.
“It just hit me like a freight train,” Peter says. “We knew Eli was sick. He’d had breathing issues since he was born in August 2019. But to find out it was cancer, my whole life just fell apart.”
The biggest challenge, Peter says, was staying strong for his other three children, Ava, Liam and Luke, while he and his wife Jenny, a registered nurse, were both falling apart on the inside.
The whole family outside Ronald McDonald House after a 94-day stay.
“I had to show a brave face and be the strong one for my family, and I thought I would have coped with it a lot better because of my job,” he admits. “But when I was alone, I just cried and cried.”
Eli had been tested for various conditions and had several machines helping him breathe, but they were not as effective as doctors hoped. Next came a tracheostomy when Eli was just five weeks old.
It was during that surgery that the medical specialists discovered a tumour in Eli’s neck. After a biopsy, they revealed to Eli’s parents that the baby boy had neuroblastoma, a type of infant cancer that develops from immature nerve cells.
Eli gives a little smile with just a hint of the teddy bear that distracted him by his head.
During two rounds of chemotherapy, which successfully shrank the tumour from the size of an adult’s thumb down to the size of a jelly bean, Eli suffered terribly. He was regularly ill, often in pain and always uncomfortable.
One day though, a little ray of sunshine was brought into the ward in the form of a teddy bear from The Kids’ Cancer Project.
“It was unexpected, but some volunteers came around and gave Eli a gift – it was a bear,” Peter says. “In fact, they brought two of them.”
“It was so nice because even though Eli was only a baby and didn’t get it, he stared at that bear in wonder all day long. He was so sick and had to be in bed most of the time. We could cuddle him, but he had to have a lot of time in bed to recover and rest. But even though he couldn’t play with the bear, it was there as his main toy and the main thing he wanted to look at.”
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There was another child in the bed opposite and he had no toys of his own. When that child was given the second bear his eyes lit up, too, Peter says.
“That boy was so sad but when we gave the bear to him it was a beautiful thing,” Peter says. “He was so much happier. It really did mean a lot to both children.”
“It also meant a lot to us, to know that somebody who had never met Eli had cared enough to voluntarily buy [and donate] a bear from The Kids’ Cancer Project. It’s very special. And we’ll keep that bear for life, because it has helped him get through so much.”