Parents reveal why they spend their lives keeping happy son, 4, away from people
Four-year-old Jack has always been a happy, smiley and smart little boy – winning the hearts of everyone he meets.
His parents Gareth and Yasmin Ruddock, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, used to take him “anywhere and everywhere” and he loved swimming.
But last year the youngster was given a shock diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia , a type of cancer affecting the white blood cells which help the body fight off infections.
The family’s lives have been turned upside down and now, worried about the risk of infections, their efforts are put into keeping Jack away from other people.
His heartbroken parents say he is “unable to enjoy the type of life you would typically expect for a young boy” – going to playgrounds and swimming with friends.
And when he asks questions, they explain it is because of his “poorly blood”.
Gareth and Yasmin’s ability to take their son out and do “normal things” has been compromised.
Instead, Jack is back and forth from hospital and has to have gruelling chemotherapy treatment for the next two years.
His dad says Jack even recognises the maroon colour worn by hematologists – blood specialists – and “howls” when they come into the room.
Gareth, 28, a driving examiner, told Mirror Online: “Most of our effort is making sure Jack is away from people.
“His cancer affects his ability to grow healthy cells.
“If he goes into a state called ‘neutropenic’ we shut down everything and keep him away from everyone.”
Neutropenia is when a person has a low level of neutrophils – a type of white blood cell which helps the body fight infection by destroying harmful bacteria and fungi that invade the body.
“When neutropenic, we keep Jack away from crowds and are extremely wary around anyone who is sick,” Gareth says.
“This means he is unable to enjoy the type of life you would typically expect for a young boy.
“Most kids would go to a play frame. That’s not an option for us anymore.
“Most kids would go swimming but Jack can’t go anywhere near a swimming pool.
“We go to country parks where it’s more likely we can be away from other people.
“It limits our ability to take him out and do normal things.”
Jack, who has a one-year-old brother called Charlie, used to be taken “everywhere and anywhere” and swimming was a big part of his life until he got ill.
“We’d got him to a point where he was really good at swimming and had to stop,” his father said.
“He is very good though and accepts what’s put in front of him.
“We have come up with a system of telling him ‘we’re really sorry mate, it’s not you it’s your poorly blood’.
“He takes everything in his stride.”
Jack’s cancer was discovered after he was in hospital for a severe case of chicken pox in April 2018.
Gareth said: “He was lying there not moving, he didn’t want to eat.
“We knew something was up straight away because he likes his food.
“He was just not with it, not himself, not responsive. “
Yasmin, 29, added: “I just thought he had a bit of an infection with his chicken pox.”
The parents took Jack to West Suffolk Hospital where he was placed in isolation.
He had blood tests and his parents said doctors spent three days trying to find out what else was wrong with their son.
“They couldn’t get his temperature to below 40C and he was saying gobbledygook,” Gareth recalled.
Then on May 2 last year, the parents remember being pulled into a side room and told the devastating news that their son had leukemia.
“Yasmin walked out crying and I only stayed a minute longer,” Gareth told.
“We asked ‘what do we do?’
“That was one of the worst days of my life.”
The parents said they remember that night as “terrible”.
Jack was sent in an ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where they were told what to expect and what the treatment would be.
Six to eight months of “hell” awaited the family, during which they were warned they would have to be back and forth from hospital.
“He was dehydrated, not eating. He had a hell of a time,” Gareth said.
“It got to the point where he recognised the maroon colour the hematologists wore and was scared.
“When they came in the room, I remember the howls. That was the worst part.”
When Jack started chemotherapy, he was having daily treatment which his parents said was ‘hell’.
Now he is on daily oral chemotherapy at home, and once a month he goes to hospital for the treatment.
He also has to have steroids and every three months he has a lumbar puncture.
This is a test that can be used to check for lymphoma cells in the cerebrospinal fluid, which protects and cushions the brain and spinal cord.
One of the side effects of his chemotherapy is that Jack’s joints are weakened, and the parents take a bottle of Calpol wherever they go just incase.
Yasmin organises everything they need each day and Gareth says she stays ‘strong for the boys’ and is ‘the best woman I know’. He says he couldn’t do it without her.
Meanwhile, Jack has to have physiotherapy and is tired constantly from his treatment – which he will continue to have until July 2021.
The parents know that if Jack does get an infection, he will need to be admitted to hospital straight away.
He has regular blood tests which pick up neutropenia and nurses give the family home visits on a weekly basis.
If Jack is neutropenic and asks to go somewhere where there could be crowds, his parents have to apologise and the youngster bravely accepts what his mum and dad tell him.
The parents say they hold it together in front of the kids, but when they go to bed the tears are released.
And it’s a “juggling act” between meeting the needs of both their boys, Yasmin admits.
“Our whole lives are around what Jack can and can’t do and what we can do to make sure he has as normal life as possible,” the parents say.
“Each day is different, we take it as it comes. “
Gareth says he wanted to do something hard to reflect on the challenging life Jack leads.
So on June 18, he and three friends will climb up the Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon.
“My reason for this is attempting to simulate as closely as I can to the type of pain and resilience that Jack has to show every day,” the proud dad said.
He added: “Both myself and my wife are extremely grateful to everyone who we have had contact with – at West Suffolk Hospital, Addenbrookes, district nurses, our GPs and everyone at Clic Sargent who have had an immeasurable positive impact on our lives and helped us understand, cope and move forward.”
Gareth is raising money for Clic Sargent, the UK’s leading cancer charity for children, young people and their families.
To donate to his fundraising page, click here.