Three years ago, aged just thirteen, D’Andre Chen was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Overnight, his life, and that of his family, changed completely.
Now, aged 16, D’Andre has been nominated for a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award, as his dad and stepmum felt he deserved recognition for dealing with the diagnosis and subsequent treatment, which is still ongoing.
His dad Anthony says, “D’Andre has coped with everything so well, and he continues to go through monthly treatment over three years later. So it’s great to be able to nominate him for an award we feel he deserves.
“We spotted the poster at the hospital and I honestly believe that every child going through a cancer diagnosis deserves an award, they are all fighters.”
Looking back at the diagnosis D’Andre shows great maturity for his age, as he recounts the moments he found out he had leukaemia - a cancer of the white blood cells.
He explains, “At the beginning I was just feeling tired all the time. I played football for Oxford United and I had to stop training because I was so tired. We all have our chores at home and I remember I couldn’t even lift the hoover. I was coming home from school and going straight to bed, I couldn’t even eat my dinner.”
Then a simple shower provided the catalyst for D’Andre getting a diagnosis.
He continues, “I got out of the shower one day and there was huge bruise on my thigh. It appeared from nowhere so I thought I better tell my dad. When he first saw it he thought I was being bullied at school. But once he realised that wasn’t the case he called my stepmum. She immediately said we had to get to hospital.”
Once in A&E at Altnagelvin Hospital things moved very quickly. Blood samples were taken and it suddenly became clear to D’Andre that it “wasn’t just a cold but something more serious.”
His dad agrees, “I thought it would just be something viral, cancer wasn’t in the family and it never entered my head. But once we were called to speak to the doctor on our own, I knew it was serious.
“The doctor simply said, ‘There’s no easy way to tell you, but your son has leukaemia.’
“To clarify I had heard him correctly I said, ‘Leukaemia? Cancer Leukaemia?
“I just cried when he confirmed that was what we were facing. He offered to tell D’Andre but I knew I had to tell him myself, he is my son. I also knew we had a fight on our hands. I tried to call my own dad but I couldn’t even hold the phone, so I gathered myself and went to tell D’Andre.”
D’Andre remembers hearing someone crying and realising it was his father so when Anthony told him he was sick he simply replied ‘How sick?’
Anthony told him he had leukaemia and that it was a form of cancer. D’Andre’s stepmum Joanne had lost her granny to cancer just five days earlier so to D’Andre cancer meant death. On hearing he too had cancer he admits he cried as he believed he was dying.
The next day D’Andre was transferred to the Children’s Hospital in Belfast where Anthony recalls, “It was all a whirlwind. Your head and wits are not about you but I remember thinking ‘I am not losing my son.’ They started to do lots of tests; ultrasounds, platelet counts, biopsies and a lumbar puncture.
“The results for the lumbar puncture were very important as they would indicate if D’Andre had a high chance of getting secondary cancers, and would ultimately determine his course of treatment. The sample had to go to Scotland to be tested and it took ten days; they were the longest ten days I have ever had.”
Unfortunately the news was not what they wanted and D’Andre was deemed a ‘high risk’ for secondary cancers and on 14th October 2011 D’Andre went through his first surgery.
He says, “I hated needles so that was the worst for me. Now I don’t even think about them. I was in hospital for six weeks which was horrible but I had lots of visitors. My stepmum’s family and all of our friends visited too which helped.”
D’Andre has now been on a maintenance regime since 2012, which was due to end at the end of November. Unfortunately that has been extended to 29th December and D’Andre is naturally disappointed. “I had hoped it would all be over for this Christmas but I’m almost there.”
D’Andre has also tried as best as he can to live a normal life throughout his treatment and Anthony has been aware of “not putting him in a bubble”.
“That’s a coping mechanism, to try and keep things as normal as we can.
“We were told we would be on a long journey with no guarantees and that is tough to hear at the beginning.
“Now we are nearing the end of the initial treatment and looking back it has flown by. But we are not out of the woods yet.
“There are follow-up appointments every month for the next year and then quarterly treatments for the next two years.
“I have always said, ‘Why couldn’t it have been me?’ One Sunday we were a happy family with nothing to worry us. It’s hard to think that a shower changed everything overnight.”
D’Andre has been nominated for a Cancer Research UK ‘Little Star’ Award, sponsored by TK Maxx. The awards are open to all under-18s who have cancer or who have been treated for the disease in the last five years. To nominate a Little Star, or donate, visit cruk.org/littlestar