Rashid's Story

Rashid was born on the 17th of april 1988 and grew into a happy toddler, who wanted to try to do things all by himself. He walked even before he became one year old and very soon after that he told whole stories. When he was old enough to play with baby building blocks, he wanted to play with duplo blocks and once he had conquered those, he wanted to play with the playmobil toys. Always he was one step ahead of his development, always happy, always busy and very social. Rashid was never ill, in short one big healthy boy.

When Rashid was 6 years old he refused to go to school one Tuesday afternoon. It was right before the summer holidays and Karim, Rashid's elder brother had just recovered from the flu. He had stayed home for a few days and when Rashid refused to go to school I thought he also wanted to stay at home for a few days to be pampered by me. In front of the door of his classroom he cried and said he did not want to go into his classroom, because the children were always making so much noise that made his head hurt. That statement surprised me a lot, because he never told me things like that before. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took him home. In the evening Rashid got a fever; he got diarrhea and vomited. I felt ashamed, because I had not believed him to be ill. Rashid never pretended to be ill.

Rashid took a long time getting better. The diarrhea stopped, the fever also came down, but he kept on vomitting now and then. After he had been home from school for a few days we went swimming in the pond behind our house. In the evening Rashid started vomitting again. I thought there must be bacteria in the water, because it was a very hot Summer. So the following day I decided to go swimming in the swimming-pool, but in the evening Rashid threw up again. The vomit did not consist of his dinner, but it consisted of no more than white slime. I went to the G.P for a check-up, but she said it was just the flu. Many children were ill due to the terrible heat. Rashid complained about headaches and especially at night he screamed because his head hurt so much, but after a acetaminophen tablet (a mild pain-killer) he managed to fall asleep again. In the mornings he threw up again and it was white and slimy. For the rest of the day Rashid had no complaints, only that he was so tired. I went to the G.P. again for another check-up, but she could not find anything wrong with Rashid's stomach and bowels. We went to an amusement park with friends and somewhere during that day Rashid lay down on a bench, his head in my lap, and he said he was so tired. My friend said that he looked so bad, so pale, so skinny. I was worried and went to see the G.P. again. This time I insisted Rashid's blood to be examined. The G.P., who was at her wits' end, thought this was a good idea. After a week the results came in: a small infection, nothing serious. I did not believe anymore that nothing was wrong, because Rashid by now was so tired that he was not able to walk to the shops with me, just a five minute walk was too much for him. I was seriously worried now and thought something had to happen. The doctor said I had to make an appointment with a pediatrician in the hospital. I called the hospital for an appointment, but the first opportunity for me to come was after three weeks. I had planned to go on a holiday trip the following week and did not want to take Rashid on this trip without knowing what was wrong with him. I called my G.P and said I did not want to wait three more weeks. She sighed and said that if she had to call the hospital for every mother who was worried about her children she would be working days and nights. But she did call the pediatrician and told him Rashid's complaints and also said I was so worried. The pediatrician must have said to her that when hearing these complaints he was also worried and that he wanted to see Rashid the following day. 

It was Thursday, the 18th of August 1994.

I was so happy that we could come to see the pediatrician the next day and I hoped Rashid would finally get the proper medicine and he would recover quickly. I brought some urine with me, because I expected they would want to check this. But this did not seem to be necessary. After talking to a doctor first the pediatrician and a neuro-surgeon started examining Rashid's eyes. I felt this went the wrong way. I still thought at that moment that Rashid had some kind of bad bacteria in his bowels of maybe Pfeiffer's disease. After a CAT-scan and a MRI the terrible truth came out: there was something in Rashid's head that caused the headaches and it had to be removed from there. It was some kind of swelling, it could be benign or malignant but it could also be a cyste. The word cancer had not been used and I had never thought of cancer. Rashid was admitted to a hospital ward immediately. His situation appeared to be extremely serious: due to the extreme pressure in his head he could go into a coma any moment. But I did not know this at that moment. 

On Monday  22nd August 1994 Rashid was operated upon. After the operation he would stay in the Intensive Care Unit for a few days. The operation took more than 6 hours. Slowly I understood the seriousness of his situation: an operation that took 6 hours was not without any danger for my little boy. 
After the operation, when I had seen Rashid in the IC Unit, I found him to be stable and calm. I knew everything would be allright now. It was somewhere during the summer holidays: Rashid had a few more weeks to recover and would be able to go back to school when school started again: he would be going to the first grade and wanted to learn how to read and write so much. That is what I thought at that time. I still had not thought of cancer threatening my little boy's life. I am not na´ve, it just never came to my mind. 

The day after the operation I talked to the neurosurgeon; he made my world fall apart completely: Rashid had a malignant tumor, medulloblastoma, and they also found metastases in his spinal cord; it was cancer and a long period of treatments was to follow. The operation was not the end, but only the beginning.  I felt the ground open under my feet. The truth finally hit me hard: my life would never be the same. Even though in that moment I felt I could lose Rashid, we started to fight back: we would beat the cancer. Rashid got a 60% chance to survive. There was also a 40% chance he would not make it, but I did not want to think of that. 

After 4 times chemotherapy and 30 times radiation therapy Rashid's treatment was finished. It was a few days before my birthday in February 1995 and after having spent weeks and weeks in hospital all of a sudden there was nothing: no treatments, no medicine, no check-ups for that moment. The operation, the chemotherapy and radiotherapy had had side-effects. Rashid could not move his eyes anymore from right to left and many of his facial muscles were damaged. Rashid had developed an allergy for the scents used in washing powder, showering foam and in every cream, powder and lotion. Rashid was tired very quickly and especially in the beginning he lost control of his balance and fine touch. And Rashid's eating habits had changed: for weeks at a row he ate nothing but pasta or pizza. All this did not stop him to enjoy life to the utmost. He was so grateful for what people did for him.

Slowly, very slowly Rashid recovered: it was two steps forward and one step back again. The process of healing went up and down. Carefully Rashid went back to school, first for 5 minutes only, then 15, half a morning and finally a whole morning. But very often the teacher called me to tell me Rashid was too tired to stay in school and I had to pick him up early. Slowly Rashid started playing in the schoolyard again and could be very angry when he saw that his best friend was better at playing soccer than he himself, because he did not have the energy to play soccer and run for a long time.

It became the Summer of 1996 and Rashid and I went to an amusement park together and in the evening Rashid threw up again. Was this caused by the stress in the days before we went on our outing or was the hamburger that he ate in the amusement park full of bacteria? Or was something else the matter? Rashid was still very tired. After the summer holidays he went to school, but mornings and afternoons were too much for him. En then he started throwing up the white slime again and he started complaining about headaches again. I recognised these complaints and I was so afraid that the tumor had come back. After the making of a CAT-scan the terrible message came: the tumor had grown so large in such a short time and it had grown all through Rashid's little head, that nothing could be done about it any more. Rashid had already had the strongest treatment and medicine possible, which had not helped. There was no more cure....he would die.

I had some choices left to make: whether I would keep Rashid at home to take care of him myself or whether I would allow the doctors to give him life prolonging treatments, which would make him sick, but would not be able to cure him. I chose the first alternative. And time passed too fast.

Rashid died in my arms on the 5th of October 1996.