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Community / Cancer survivors share their stories ahead of Relay for Life

In the second of three survivor stories nine year old Etta Hannah and mum Jennifer Murray share their experience of going through cancer treatment

Etta (pictured) and mum Jennifer have spoken about their experience.

AHEAD of the Shetland Relay for Life returning this weekend (28 May), the organisers have teamed up with Shetland News to share stories from three brave cancer survivors.

The biennial event – which was not held in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic – has raised hundreds of thousands for Cancer Research UK over the years.

The second survivor story is from nine year old Etta Hannah, and her mum Jennifer Murray. We will publish the final one on Friday.

They have kindly shared their experiences of cancer to raise awareness of the disease.

Name? Etta Hannah (survivor)

Jennifer Murray (parent)

Type of cancer? Pilocystic Astrocytoma, a form of brain and spinal cord tumours

Age? Nine

How did your diagnosis come about? Jennifer: “Etta was five and preparing to start school when we booked a routine eye test. We had her test and the optician sent us straight to the Gilbert Bain for further testing. Finally, after a couple months of tests and waiting on appointments she had an MRI scan which revealed her tumours. At that point Etta was losing her sight and things moved very fast from there.”

What was your treatment? Jennifer: “Etta had three surgeries – first a VP shunt was fitted in her brain to stop the pressure on her optic nerves from damaging her eyes further. Then she had surgery in her spinal cord to try and remove as much tumour as possible and take a biopsy to determine the type.

“Her third surgery was to insert a hickman line into her chest for administering IV medications and for blood tests, the easiest way to describe it is like a permanent cannula.

“It was a vital piece of equipment that came with a strict set of rules and restricted Etta from contact sports, swimming or submerging herself in water for nearly two years, but it meant she rarely needed needles.

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“Once that was fitted she was ready to begin 20 months of chemotherapy in the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. She did an intense 10 week block followed by six week rounds that allowed her some home time in Shetland when her bloods were high enough.”

What was your lowest point? Jennifer: “As a parent it was very hard to have to tell her we couldn’t go home when she so longed for it, she couldn’t go to school and do normal activities when her bloods were low and just constantly feeling like we were stopping her from being herself.”

Etta: “When my hair came out”

What helped lift your spirits/kept you going? Jennifer: “Our family and friends mainly, but when we were all separated for long periods of time I would try and focus on getting back home and seeing our other daughter and just being in the house with the cats because Etta would always be much more relaxed at home. I tried to look at things in rounds rather that the whole length of treatment, so it wasn’t so overwhelming.”

What would you say to people currently going through treatment? Jennifer: “Focus on yourself in the present day, the little things that can make that day more enjoyable and just generally let yourself feel and process all the emotions.”

What would you like people to take from your story? Jennifer: “Trust your gut, if you feel instinctively that something is wrong, keep pushing for answers, get other options and don’t ever feel bad for asking for help.”

Etta: “It’s important to get your kid’s eyes tested.”

Anyone you would like to thank? Jennifer: “We would like to thank every member of the NHS that ever dealt with us through Etta’s journey. Especially during the early stages of the pandemic when she was nearing the end of treatment and had to be taken to Aberdeen for shielding. We would also like to thank all the people who donate blood. Etta received 36 bags of red blood and platelets over the course of her chemotherapy and we are forever grateful.”

What are you planning for the relay? Jennifer:Etta did a big fundraiser with her dad (Robert Hannah) – he had been growing his hair for two years to donate to The Little Princess trust after Etta received a wig from them during treatment. We decided to make the most of it so we had a day at the salon and let Etta loose with the clippers and hair dye which she loved.

“I’m hoping that the relay can help Etta process and understand what she went through at such a young age and show her she’s not alone.”

Etta: “I plan to walk and run as much as I can.”

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