When cancer strikes not just once, but twice, in an Auckland family
When you’re told your child has cancer, it’s hard to process, but to have two children receive a cancer diagnosis seems almost incomprehensible.
In 2017, that heart-breaking scenario became a reality for Kylie and Simon Coulam. In 2008, the Coulam’s had to watch their nine-year-old son, Zavier, go through treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). Fortunately, Zavier survived and he doesn’t recall much about the experience, except that it was a really tough time in his life. He is well and in year 11 at Rangitoto College.
Thinking they were in the clear, the family’s life returned to normal, until September 2017 when Zavier’s brother, Logan, began to feel unwell. The nine-year-old was lethargic and had pain in his jaw which was totally out of character for the fit, energetic boy who regularly won cross-country races. Although he was training hard, Logan was becoming frustrated with his lack of progress.
When Logan developed a limp, his concerned parents took him to Starship’s Emergency Department. After running some tests, the hospital told the couple that Logan had Burkitt’s Leukaemia. The Coulam’s were stunned that their second son also had cancer.
Logan’s cancer was classed as aggressive and he was immediately put on a treatment plan at Starship Children’s Hospital. Kylie, a school teacher, left work to be at her son’s side and the family prepared to live at Starship for the next six months. While supporting Logan, Kylie and Simon also had to reassure his teenage sister, Olivia, who was afraid she would get cancer too.
Kylie remembers it all too well. “It was a really difficult time for the family. Logan was sick and everyone was on edge. The only positive at the time was the support we started to receive from Family Support Coordinator, Donna, at the Child Cancer Foundation and the fact that we already knew most of the oncologists and nurses at Starship. They had become familiar faces while Zavier was sick and it was comforting to see so many people we already knew.”
With Zavier’s three-and-a-half years of cancer treatment under their belt, Kylie and Simon thought they knew what to expect, but Logan’s treatment was completely different. It involved more intensive chemotherapy treatment which left the young boy sick and exhausted after each round. He developed ulcers in his mouth, throat and stomach, his hair fell out, he suffered from high temperatures and would often shake uncontrollably. Too weak to walk, Logan had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair when he was able to go home between treatments.
After six months, Logan completed his treatment and was sent home. Still in a wheelchair, he had to be isolated to allow his immune system to build up again. Two and a half months later, Logan was able to go back to school. Luckily, he had been able to stay in touch with his classmates while he received treatment so the transition back to school wasn’t too difficult.
“While Logan is back at school, life hasn’t exactly gone back to the way it was,” says Kylie. “His focus and retention aren’t what they used to be and he often has to take a day off in the middle of the week because he’s exhausted.”
“Logan’s zest for life and determination to get back to normal have motivated him to get fit again. He enjoys basketball, so we applied to the Child Cancer Foundation for a grant for basketball lessons. The Foundation approved the grant and Logan now receives basketball lessons on a regular basis. Happily, his hard work has paid off as he was recently selected for his age group’s top North Harbour basketball team.”
While Logan is making good progress, he is still in the post-treatment phase, which means there is a chance he could relapse. But for now, the Coulam family is focused on enjoying their time together and looking forward to returning to as normal a life as possible.