JC charity supplement

Nikki Bloom was five months pregnant with her second child when her three-year-old son Joey was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumour. Without warning Nikki and her husband Ray’s world imploded. Not long after, charity Camp Simcha came into their lives, providing vital practical, therapeutic and emotional support to help them through the terrifying and challenging journey ahead.

Here Nikki explains how Camp Simcha’s support gave them the tools to rebuild their life after Joey’s diagnosis.

“Mass. Tumour. Cancer. These were words that blew up the safe, happy life we knew.

It was our first holiday after lockdown, I was 5 months pregnant and we were celebrating some degree of ‘normality’ in the new pandemic ridden world. A day on the beach in the South of France with my husband Ray, our 3-year-old son Joey and parents, then heading to dinner to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. It sounds idyllic. Joey was zooming ahead showing off his scooter tricks, then the fall.

The fall that perforated the cancerous tumour that was lurking undetected in our baby’s diseased kidney.

The first few days were a blur of ICU medical staff, tests, his port operation and his first chemotherapy. Joey stayed in ICU for a week, I don’t think Ray or I allowed ourselves to comprehend the calamitous nature of what we were faced with.  His first four chemotherapies would be done, then he’d have surgery – all in France, as we were told he wasn’t medically stable to move despite the numerous options we suggested.

After his surgery and recovery we were allowed to travel home. I was now 7 months pregnant and Joey was a different child to the one who came on holiday. The reality of life and all that Joey now needed kicked in. It was at this point that we got in touch with Camp Simcha. Their Head of Family Liaison, Rachely, listened to me sob, took my needs from our very first conversation and immediately put some support in place.

The next day we were given direct access to their hospital transport service to take the stress out of our multiple hospital journeys and reduce the risk of infection.

We were also put in touch with our Family Liaison Officer Mandy, who has been a lifeline to us in so many ways. Immediately Mandy wanted to understand Joey’s personality, his likes and hobbies and see how they could help. This was how we started art sessions with Camp Simcha’s art teacher Belinda. Sessions were organised working round treatment and unplanned hospital stays and they became part of Joey’s routine, a part he looked forward to and got so much joy from.

They transported him into place of creativity and imagination, they chatted and made things he was so proud of; infact we made an art wall of his masterpieces!  When the Covid rules eased and art was able to be done face to face, it gave Ray and I a precious hour’s respite in a full-on day of being carers for our son.

After our return from France, Joey had another 7 months of chemotherapy and 10 days of radiation in the November. At this point I was heavily pregnant so Ray took him. Joey was so traumatised by the radiotherapy that he was inconsolable for 2 hours after each session. It was awful – for Ray unable to comfort him and me equally powerless at home. But Mandy was there, sending in meals for our freezer, dinners to ensure Ray and I spent time together, gifts which appeared on our doorstep when we were particularly low. More than that she was the person I felt I could tell all my deepest fears to when I didn’t want to burden my friends or family.

Camp Simcha felt like our safety net, helping in whatever way we needed.

Mandy also arranged for Joey to have a ‘Big Sister’ volunteer, Amy. She was lovely, kind and friendly, she played with Joey, they laughed together and he got to spend time with a playful adult. Following his traumatic year, he became very wary of adults, so having this new person in his life that was non-threatening and purely fun really helped him. There were also day trips, the huge bunch of Batman balloons that greeted Joey after his final chemotherapy, the list went on. Camp Simcha’s support was constant.

Our journey with Camp Simcha was different after Joey finished treatment – coinciding with pandemic restrictions easing, we began to go to Camp Simcha events, parties, a mums’ lunch, family retreat, outings. This gave Ray and I a community of support we hadn’t realised we needed. Talking to others who had similar experiences, sharing stories, words of wisdom, helping those newer to this see that it’ll get better has been such an important part of our journey.

Our family has made Camp Simcha friends that we know will be part of our lives for ever.

Camp Simcha have been so much more to us than a list of services – they have been a beacon of light throughout our ordeal. They gave us the scaffolding we needed to rebuild our lives and without them I dread to think of how we’d have crawled our way to where we are now.”