Five-year-old Timaru boy marks end of three-year cancer journey

Five-year-old Lucas McLean’s more than three-year battle with blood cancer will end today.

Lucas keeps a jar of more than 1000 beads, each representing a traumatic or courageous step he took in his battle against T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – from losing his hair to every time he came down with pneumonia or needed an overnight hospital stay.

His final step is to take the last of his chemotherapy pills on Sunday night.

“He handled it amazingly,” his mother, Mel McLean, said.

“Even on his darkest of days, he would have a beautiful smile on his face. He kept us all going.”

When Lucas finished his final round of intravenous chemotherapy, McLean wanted to give him the next day off at Bluestone School to celebrate.

“He insisted on going. He wanted to see if he could run around as fast as his friends, and tell them he’s finished his chemotherapy,” she said.

“He’s a happy, positive wee fellow – and really cheeky.”

Lucas was diagnosed with blood cancer on March 15, 2017.

McLean, a single mother at the time, was alarmed to find her toddler exhausted and bruises covering his body. The doctor referred Lucas to the hospital for an urgent blood test, which revealed he had leukaemia.

The mother and son spent the next two-and-a-half months in Christchurch, where Lucas was treated.

“He was in remission by day 30, but leukaemia is like a swimming pool. You can treat it once to get rid of the toxins, but you have to keep treating it to maintain it.”

They had since spent 105 nights at Ronald McDonald House with stays ranging from overnight to three weeks at a time.

“Christchurch became a second home for us,” McLean said.

She hoped “the hospital side of this journey is over now”.

Lucas “rang the bell” and added a spot to the giraffe at Christchurch Hospital’s Children’s Haematology Oncology Centre on Monday, signalling the end of his treatment.

“It was just such a beautiful, beautiful time. It’s nice to finally have the journey at an end,” McLean said.

“Cancer really takes its toll not just on the immediate family, but everybody in that child’s life.

“It’s not the cancer but our strength which defines us, and as human beings we don’t realise how strong or resilient we are until we’re faced with something like this.”

After Lucas’ oral chemotherapy finishes on Sunday night and his portacath is removed, he will just have a nasogastic tube to deal with for the next two or three months.

It was “quite frightening” when Covid-19 began gripping the world, McLean said.

“But it’s been so good for Lucas being in lockdown because he didn’t get any sniffles or sneezes, and he’s maintained that wellness.

“He’s slowly getting his strength back.”

McLean said it could take up to six months before the effects of chemotheraphy began wearing off.

She said Lucas and sister Ruby, 11, had a “very supportive step-dad” in McLean’s fiancé, Sean Richards, who she met in April 2018 in the midst of the family’s cancer battle.

“He just scooped us up in his arms and embraced us,” she said.

The couple planned to marry in Fiji in November this year, which “gives us all something to look forward to”.

“There’s been so much growth within our wee family in the past three-and-a-half years,” she said.

“Now it’s like we’re in a new chapter – in fact, we’ve started a whole new book.

“This will shape Lucas, and I’m sure he’ll do something to help others in his future.”