Nick and Miriam talk publicly for the first time about their son’s successful Cancer treatment

About a year ago, I became aware that Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez were going through the worst ordeal any parent can face. Their eldest son Antonio was going through brutal treatment for a life-threatening condition. They were very much in my thoughts as my family also faced months of medical trauma. That sort of thing is scary enough when it happens to an adult, but utterly heartbreaking and terrifying beyond anything you are ever likely to face when it comes to your own child.

It was pretty much an open secret, but, thankfully, the media respected  the family’s privacy nobody published anything about what was happening.

Yesterday, Nick and Miriam talked about their son’s illness for the first time on ITV’s Lorraine programme. They wanted to raise awareness of Bloodwise, a charity dedicated to funding research into blood cancers. The aspect that Nick and Miriam focused on was that of finding a way of making the treatments less horrendous to endure. They wrote a blog for the charity, saying:

Antonio, our eldest son, was 14 when we first spotted a small, entirely painless lump in his neck.
Although he had no other symptoms, we made an appointment with our local GP.  We were lucky: our brilliant doctor quickly recognised that the lump could be something more serious. And so it was that after an ultrasound scan and a biopsy Antonio was diagnosed in September of last year with stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma in his neck and his chest.

Like all parents who have a child diagnosed with cancer, our first reaction was an overwhelming, if irrational, wish to take the cancer away from him and take it on ourselves. But of course you can’t. You have no choice but to watch your own child battle through the heavy treatment, however much all your parental instincts wish you could take their place.

The treatment he received in the NHS at the teenage cancer unit at UCLH was superb. Every single person working on the ward – from the reception desk to the expert nurses – was friendly, professional and compassionate. We were especially fortunate that Dr Stephen Daw, Antonio’s Consultant Oncologist, is a specialist in childhood and teenage lymphomas and leads research into improving treatments and outcomes.

Antonio had four monthly cycles of chemotherapy, undertook a course of very heavy steroids and was prescribed a barrage of medication including antibiotics and pills to tackle nausea. At one point his treatment meant he was taking over 20 tablets per day.

The side effects that he experienced were what you would expect, including complete hair loss, vomiting and extreme tiredness. At one point he was neutropenic, meaning that his body had no defences against possible infection.

But by the end, the treatment appears to have had exactly the effect we hoped for: Antonio is free of cancer, and his regular three-monthly checks have detected no return of the disease.

Not everyone is so fortunate. Hodgkin Lymphoma affects around 2000 people every year in the UK. The risks of the disease are highest amongst the elderly and young adults. It is rarer amongst children. For those who do make a full recovery, the treatments can nonetheless be very harsh and can have detrimental long-term side effects.

So clearly there is scope to treat childhood blood cancers even more effectively. With the financial support of Bloodwise, Dr Daw is leading research to improve the recovery rates for Lymphoma – which are already high compared to other cancers – and reduce the unpleasant and long term side effects.

A new report from Bloodwise outlines an exciting range of research being undertaken to develop new treatment and kinder cures. Treatments which could lead to a reduction in radiotherapy and even chemotherapy and which no longer come with the risks of short or long-term life-changing, even fatal, side-effects. More research is needed to understand these conditions better and develop the way we treat them.

I felt that once I’d read it I was honour bound to make a donation here.

When my husband was ill, I surprised myself at how calm, apart from a few major wobbles, I was. That’s really not like me at all. Choice wasn’t part of the equation and I just had to get on with keeping the environment as peaceful and gentle and supportive for him and my son as possible. Miriam and Nick talked about how they tried to preserve the family routine as much as they could and about how incredible Antonio had been, going into school and announcing he had Cancer and if he fretted at all, it seems to have been about falling behind in his school work. When you watch the whole interview you can really see the pain of what they have been through in their faces – and you can’t help but admire the way that they have dealt with it. We can all empathise with Nick when he said that all you want to do is take the Cancer away from your child and in to yourself.

Nick and Miriam have always been very private about their family, and it can’t have been an easy decision for them to be as public about this, even though it’s only them talking. They will, however, have helped countless others going through similar hell by doing so. Knowing that others have been through what you have been through and come out the other side really helps when you are mired in the middle of it.

All our best wishes go to them and their family. Now we all know what he was going through when he had to fight an unexpected election and when he provided such brilliant and authoritative opposition to the Government’s awful Brexit plans. He’s done an incredible job.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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2 Comments

  • David Pocock 15th Sep '17 - 1:24am

    My prayers and best wishes to the family. I am glad it is all clear and it had a happy ending.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Sep '17 - 10:36am

    Miriam Gonzalez Durantez also writes in the Financial Times, for instance on trade agreements and on the lack of experienced negotiators, of which she is one, commended by former Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten (Tory) in his recent book First Confessions.

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