Twin boys, who beat cancer, opened a new room which has been created especially for young oncology patients and their families to use at Medway Maritime Hospital thanks to their parents’ fundraising efforts.
Austin and Edward, who are both six years old, received regular chemotherapy sessions on Dolphin Ward after Austin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2017 and Edward was diagnosed with the same form of blood cancer in 2018 – just two weeks before their third birthday.
Due to the boys’ immune systems being compromised by the treatment, they were confined to isolation rooms and unable to use the ward’s playroom during their stay.
Mum Sian Milne, 35, and dad Tom Gasson 42, wanted their sons, and other young cancer patients, to have as normal a life as possible while on the ward, so they came up with the idea of creating an oncology family room.
Sian, from Tonge, said: “Facilities are very limited for children with cancer due to the risk of contamination in shared playrooms. So, we decided, as a family, that we would do our best to turn what is a particularly negative and unimaginable situation into one that we can look back on as having a positive outcome.
“We set up the Edward and Austin Play (#EandAPlay) Facebook group four months into Edward’s treatment to help raise funds for the room and raise awareness to support children and families living with childhood cancer, and thanks to people’s generosity we ended up raising just under £18,000.
“That money has now been used to transform the former pre-assessment room into a oncology family room so children who need to isolate because of their conditions have a safe space they can go to play with toys, watch a film or even eat with their family when they visit rather than them all having to crowd around, or in, a hospital bed.
“We’ve also purchased a chemotherapy treatment chair which is due to arrive in the New Year. Once installed, and the staff have undergoing training, it means young patients will be able to undergo longer chemotherapy infusions without the need to travel to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.”
As well as a number of toys and games consoles to play with, the room boasts a number of creature comforts to help create a home-from-home feel, including a TV, dining table, kitchenette with cutlery and crockery, tea and coffee making facilities, a hand sink, microwave, fridge freezer, storage units, a couch and long life food.
Both Sian and Tom and big brother Jacob, aged 14, watched proudly as Austin and Edward cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the room on Dolphin Ward on Friday (3 December). As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, the boys were then invited to switch on the Christmas tree lights in one of the hospital’s courtyard areas.
Although Austin finished his treatment in December 2020 and Edward in July 2021, the Year 2 pupils, who attend Bapchild and Tonge Primary School, are still seen by the Coast oncology team on a regular basis.
It’s not the first time the hospital has helped to save the boys’ lives though. A scan at 21 weeks showed Sian was at high risk of losing them both. Following bedrest and surgery, the twins were born at 34 weeks and cared for by the Oliver Fisher Special Care Baby Unit.
“We always knew we wanted to give back to the hospital in some way as we wouldn’t have our babies without the wonderful staff who work there,” said Sian.
“Thanks to some of the bigger and expensive items being donated by businesses and individuals, and DMG Developments fitting out the room, some of the money raised has also been used to buy ear thermometers, which are given to families who have just received a cancer diagnosis for their child; and three large age appropriate boxes of toys for children to play with whilst they are waiting in the Magpies Clinic as the oncology children are not allowed to wait in the main waiting area due to infection risks.
“During the height of the pandemic, we also created a number of ‘Emergency Kits’, which contained toiletries, snacks and entertainment items, for families who were admitted to the ward unexpectedly.
“Our main focus was always to make sure that we helped future families fuelled by the experiences of our own family and I think we have achieved what we set out to do.”
Chief Executive Dr George Findlay said: “Seeing one child, let alone two, going through cancer treatment at such a young age must be incredibly difficult and I admire Sian and her family for finding the strength and courage to turn what was potentially a very emotional and distressing time, into a positive.
“Play is extremely important for children in terms of learning and development and this new room will enable those who are undergoing cancer treatment to continue to do that, even though their immune system is compromised.
“It’s also important for young cancer patients to spend as much time with their families as possible, in a comfortable environment.
“On behalf of everyone at the Trust, I would like to say a huge thank you to Sian and her family for creating the new family oncology room. I’m sure it will be warmly received, and make a huge difference to the lives of many families who, unfortunately, find themselves in a similar situation.”