Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: John Kennerley
1st September 2022
When he was just three years old, John Kennerley was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Now aged 22, John and his family, who live near Macclesfield, are keen fundraisers for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity.
For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we asked John and mum Claire to tell us about his diagnosis and treatment at our former site, Pendlebury Hospital ….
Claire: It was September 2003 I remember the whole family had some sort of cold or virus. We all got over it but John just never seemed to get better. We went to have it checked out, but the doctor reassured us it was just a virus and to give it time.
We live on a farm and one day I saw John walking across the small yard. He couldn’t get across the whole way before he had to sit down – I just knew something wasn’t right.
That Sunday I asked my mum, who was an ex-nurse, to look at him to see if she felt anything was wrong. She wanted to look at his tummy for bruises. I could tell she had a feeling about something but didn’t want to tell me in case I got upset.
She told me to take him back to the doctors and get a blood test but I was too wound up by then, and the doctor’s surgery was obviously closed at the weekend, so I rang the out-of-hours and I just happened to know the lady who answered. I think she knew I just wouldn’t cope so she advised that we take him to A&E. They were pretty sure it was leukaemia, so they took him straight to Pendlebury, where it was confirmed it was a type of leukaemia called ALL.
When we first arrived I didn’t know what to expect but the nurses on the ward were absolutely amazing. It was such a scary time and I was quite upset but they were superb. I remember thinking I was glad my mum had flagged that it could be something more serious and we got him seen when we did.
John: In all honesty, I don’t really remember much about the time. I don’t think I really realised how serious leukaemia or cancer can be. I just remember the hospital being so fun and I never felt scared.
I remember the playroom on the ward and playing The Simpsons on the PlayStation2. There were certain nurses and play leaders I really liked. I remember I always wanted Jo to give me my lumber puncture as she did it really well.
Claire: We were lucky because it had been caught early, so John could have the lowest regime of treatment. John was initially in hospital for three weeks, having chemo and getting to know the ward. My husband and I swapped between being with John in hospital and his sister Lois at home, who was only 18 months old at the time.
I’ll always remember them saying to me to John was very quiet. Some children get quite aggressive when they have the treatment and others can go very inwards. He used to watch the children going up and down the ward playing and they’d tell me “that will be John soon”.
After the three weeks in hospital he was at home and it got to the point where he was excited about visiting the hospital. He had Prof Rob Wynn who was just amazing. He really involved John in his treatment and would say “Which vein should it be today John?” I hadn’t had much to do with hospitals before so I didn’t expect people like Rob. He would always ask my opinion on things and we always felt very involved in John’s treatment. I have huge respect for Rob and people like him.
John: I actually liked getting the lumber puncture and asked if I could take a ‘gas mask’ home when I left. I also called my line Clifford after the big red dog on TV. I remember having a sticker chart that would be filled in when I had injections. When you got a certain number you got a present and I asked Anne, one of the staff, for a Thomas the Tank Engine torch. I don’t know how she got hold of one, but she did.
LoubyLou had a bubble machine which I loved and I also remember craving McDonalds cheeseburgers.
To me it was just a great time in hospital. I think the nurses and play staff enjoyed spoiling us all.
I think it’s nice I don’t remember being ill and just remembering all the nice things about the hospital. Perhaps if any parents of young children with cancer are reading this now, it might reassure them?
Claire: We decided we wanted to support the children’s hospital and give something back so we started doing things like craft stalls, a raffle and a cake stall. We had some amazing prizes donated and we did that for about two or three years.
We have a small caravan site at the farm so then we set up a little bric-a-brac stall and the visitors could take things and put money in the tin. We’ve been doing that a long time now and it’s all added up. We’ve also had quite a few of the local people in our village make donations in John’s name.
John: My company Grown & Made also does a jam jar flowers workshop with proceeds going to the Charity. Our most recent one was in August as part of Flower Farmer’s Big Weekend.
Claire: The total raised in John’s name is now at more than £26,000. A lot of that is thanks to a very generous friend who wishes to remain anonymous, but I just want to say how grateful we are. We know it is going somewhere really beneficial and helping all those children who are being treated at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Professor Rob Wynn is now the Consultant Haematologist and Director of the Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Programme at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. He remembers treating John back at Pendlebury Hospital.
Prof Wynn: I do remember John very well and was so pleased to know he is keeping well. I remember chatting to him about his farm and he told me all about keeping pigs. When I saw him in clinic he would show me pictures. I learned a lot about the pigs and rare breeds thanks to John!
John was lucky in that he had ALL which even back then was a type of cancer most children were able to be cured from. We were always confident we were going to cure John and his treatment was very successful.
For most ALL kids it’s a similar story, but of course we won’t be done with our research until we see 100% success for 100% of cancers.
You can read more about this in Rob Wynn’s other post here.