Building strong bonds

Eleven-year-old Sarah-Lou’s smile is contagious. After a year of treatment, she returned to school in a progressive mode, much to her delight. “The days were very long at home, I hardly saw anyone, I didn’t go out. As soon as I went back to school, I felt like I was rediscovering the place, reconnecting with my friends. I didn’t think I’d ever hope to go back to school that much. It’s amazing!”

In the spring of 2021, Sarah-Lou was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Severe fatigue and pain in her legs, head and back alerted her parents. “She would come home from school and lie down on the couch to take a nap, which was not like her at all,” says her mother Carine. At first, we thought it was a change of pace, adapting to the cold. We had just experienced our first winter in Quebec.” The family left France in July 2020 to settle in Montreal.

While the little family was excitedly planning a getaway to Tremblant, plans changed dramatically. A visit to the emergency room turned into an immediate admission to intensive care. “It’s violent. Instead of the planned weekend, Sarah-Lou ended up in a hospital bed, with IVs, under monitoring, with wires everywhere!”

When the doctor announced the diagnosis, Carine’s heart cracked. “My whole world was collapsing, it was total panic. I called my husband, I was in tears. I told him he had to come quickly. I took a deep breath and went to find Sarah-Lou in the next room. I couldn’t tell her, it was too violent. For her, for us. It was the doctor who explained it to her.”

You are not alone!

Sarah-Lou keeps a vague memory of this announcement. “I thought it was a disease like any other, that I would get better quickly. However, her time in the intensive care unit left a lasting impression on her, so much so that she never wants to go there again. Her transfer to the hemato-oncology unit was welcome, as was her discovery of Leucan. “Christelle, the counsellor, quickly introduced herself to us with the red bag. It was as if she was telling us: you are not alone, we are here! It was a pleasant surprise and a great relief. Finally, we knew we would have support.”

Having arrived in Quebec during the pandemic, the family had not had the opportunity to develop a new social network. “When leukemia presented itself, we felt really alone. Contact with Christelle has been regular since then, at the hospital, by email and on the phone. Leucan makes a difference. Through its massages, which Sarah-Lou particularly appreciates, and through its alternative hair care program. When necessary, the young girl wears a cap or a wig depending on the occasion and her mood. Most of the time now, she walks around bareheaded. “I’ve gotten used to my short hair.”

Her mother was apprehensive about the shock. She had borrowed a book on the subject from the Leucan Information Centre to help her get through this stage without too much trouble. Sarah-Lou had long hair that she adamantly refused to cut. When she realized it would fall out, she cried a lot. “We read the book, we talked. When she felt ready, she asked to have her head shaved. She amazed me, she was super zen. The path was made in her head. We have pictures of her smiling.”

Low morale and back to school

After a month of hospitalization, Sarah-Lou returned home where she was able to see her big sister Zoé. For Zoé, it wasn’t easy either,” says her mother. She couldn’t come to the hospital, and during the hospitalization, she felt like she was in joint custody.” A recent weekend with Leucan’s Heart-filled Hope support group did her a world of good.

Last spring, Sarah-Lou had to be hospitalized for mucositis. A new confinement; her morale deteriorated significantly. The doctors recommended an early return to school. “My friends were all very happy to see me. They were concerned, but they didn’t treat me any differently. Our class is really good. We all get along with each other.” During her long absence, she received drawings, a large postcard. The teacher made sure that the bond was never broken,” Carine says.

Ringing the bell

“Living with leukemia has changed me. I’m not the same person anymore,” says Carine. Her mother adds: “Despite the difficult moments, she has always tried to keep her smile. I think she discovered, without realizing it, an unsuspected strength that she had within her.”

The whole family will remain scarred. “The family dynamic has changed. Personally, I’m more about enjoying and savoring the good times. There are things that have changed, I aspire to something else.” She turns to her daughter, “We’re in a positive momentum and I hope it continues until September 2023 and at that point you ring the bell to break it! We’ll offer them another one.” Sarah-Lou nods and smiles.

Leucan Donate