Date published: 08 October 2018 by Anna Jackson
To mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October, Gateshead family, the Halliwell’s, say the ‘huge impact’ on their mental health would have been worse without support from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, after their son was diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
Mum Natalie Halliwell shares their story to help raise awareness of mental health and Rainbow Trust.
In early 2013 her son Dominic was just 10 weeks old when he was diagnosed with a cancerous mass on his brain, spinal column and central nervous system. For the next five months, Natalie stayed by his hospital bedside leaving her five-year- old son Zach at home with her husband.
“The few weeks that followed were extremely difficult and I had to juggle a whole range of emotions on very little sleep and with a small support network,” Natalie said.
“I stayed with Dominic in the hospital but I felt very alone during those first few weeks, and my role as primary carer for my baby was removed from me as his little body required regular medication and checks from the medical team, rather than me.
“Coping was difficult and in the darkest hours, at night when the other children were sleeping, I often felt despair. My mental health was at risk.”
The family was referred to one of our Family Support Workers, who support families at home, in hospital and in the community, wherever they are needed.
Natalie said Durham based Family Support Worker Vicky turned their lives around.
“Being referred to Vicky was a life saver for our family,” she said.
“Initially she visited me and Dominic in the hospital once a week. Her visits gave me a few hours to grab a shower or get off the ward and relish the outside air – small things that made an immeasurable difference to my mental wellbeing.”
Once Dominic was finally discharged from hospital, Natalie and her husband Chris faced fresh concerns.
“Although we were happy to be home with Dominic, we had to balance this with the stress of not being near medical help,” Natalie said.
“It felt like we had lost our safety net. Additionally, it was hard to manage the demands of Zach with the health needs of his baby brother. Vicky took Zach on days out and to Rainbow Trust drop in groups where he met and talked to other children and families in similar situations, helping him understand his situation. Zach being with Vicky allowed me to give 100 per cent attention to Dominic without feeling like I was depriving his brother. Vicky’s training, experience and knowledge have been invaluable and her help and guidance have made a huge difference to the emotional health of our family.”
The support we provide enables families who have a child with a life threatening illness to make the most of their time together.
“What Vicky and Rainbow Trust understand is the importance of keeping a family functioning. The sick child is cared for by the medical professionals but if the family do not receive external support the impact on their mental health is huge.
“Rainbow Trust Family Support Workers are literally like having an extra family member. They offer support in whichever way you need and carry out the work they do without any sense of judgment – we couldn’t manage without her.”