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Boy's brave battle against leukemia inspires mum to train as nurse

Lucas McLean (2), of Timaru, and his mother Mel. Lucas was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March.

Lucas McLean has been through a lot in his short life.

The Timaru two-year-old was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March and since then has battled through chemotherapy, had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and undergone CAT scans.  

While now in remission, for the next two months Lucas will go through delayed intensification - intense maintenance chemotherapy.

The family left for Christchurch on Wednesday to begin the treatment.

Former Timaru woman battling leukemia for the third time

Young Tokoroa leukemia sufferer pushes on
Mason, the two-year-old with leukemia but as strong as stone

Through the journey, Lucas' mother Mel McLean has learnt to take each day as it comes, and says she has a new lease on life.

"It's awful to watch your child go through all this," McLean said.

"The knowledge I've gained, and the medical terms I've learnt, I am now going to study to become an oncology nurse. I want to help other families now. It's totally changed my focus on life."

Lucas McLean plays with his Beads of Courage.

For the next two months McLean and her son will travel to Christchurch every second week for Lucas' intense therapy. McLean's daughter Ruby, 8, will join the family for some of that time too.

"Lucas is a high risk leukemia patient and that's largely because of his age," she said.

The family's life was "turned upside down" on March 15 when they discovered Lucas, a bright and bubbly toddler, had cancer.

"I realised something was wrong on March 15."

"He was really, really tired and doing lots of grunting with his breathing and I couldn't understand why he was having these problems."

His body was also covered in bruises, she said.

"I took Lucas to the doctor at 4pm and I thought he might have a virus."

The doctor diagnosed a double ear infection but McLean asked him to give her son a "thorough look" and showed him the bruises on her son's body.


Mel McLean now wants to use the knowledge she's gained to help other families and plans to train as an oncology nurse.

"I could see the concern in the doctor's eyes then. He sent us to the hospital to get an urgent blood test. He said 'we need to get him checked for leukemia'.

"That was a huge shock. I just thought 'no he won't have that, he'll have a virus or be anemic'."

They had the test and returned home. McLean was just about to begin vacuuming the house when her phone rang.

"It was a nurse from the hospital saying we needed to pack a bag and bring Lucas in ASAP. I kept asking 'what's the reason, what's the reason?' and she just kept saying to 'bring him in'. If I had known the real reason I would have just collapsed."

She said when they arrived at Timaru Hospital she was "a mess".

"Dr Goodwin sat down with me and explained that Lucas had leukemia. He was amazing. It must take some strength to see a whole person's life being flipped upside down like that, in front of you."

The pair stayed overnight in hospital, and were transferred to Christchurch Hospital.

"We were kept in CHOC (Children's Haematology Oncology Centre) and they were amazing."

McLean said she never imagined she wouldn't be back home in Timaru until two-and-a-half months after Lucas' diagnosis. "Our whole lives were turned upside down.

"It was a lot of devastation and it took me a long time to get my head around it."

She said before her son's diagnosis she had goals and had been working 55 hours a week.

"I could see we were just starting to get ahead and I had dreams of buying a caravan and taking the kids away on holiday."

However, she said even she had been surprised at how quickly she had learnt to adjust to life with a sick child.

"The reality is that cancer is very isolating when you're a parent on your own.

"In Christchurch we're in Ronald McDonald House and then you come back home and you're alone."

She said after his two months of intense treatment he would go into a maintenance period which would involve clinical visits at Christchurch Hospital for intravenous chemotherapy once a month.

He will also take an oral form of chemotherapy for the next three years, she said.

At the moment Lucas is also tube fed and takes several medications each day. 

"I have no family here but Lucas' dad's family have been excellent.

"I'm a mum on my own and we've been through our fair share of heartache in the past."

The Timaru Herald



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