Natasha Penney, 34, from Burgess Hill explains why she couldn't hold her boy when he needed her most...
Splashing about in the bath, my son Sebastian, then 16 months, couldn’t stop giggling.
Then, all of a sudden, the water started turning red.
Sebastian had peed blood in the bath.
Alarmed, I scooped him up.
Me and my fiance Luke, 32, took him straight to A&E at Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
There, doctors explained it was just a urine infection. We were given antibiotics.
A few weeks on, in September 2015, we were due to go on holiday to Spain. Except a few nights into our trip, I noticed Sebastian wasn’t himself.
Whenever he needed to pee, he’d scream in agony.
‘What’s wrong, sweetie?’ I asked, cuddling him as he sobbed.
After five nights, I’d had enough.
‘We need to take him home,’ I told Luke.
So we got the next flight back, and went straight to hospital.
‘My poor baby’s in agony,’ I cried.
Doctors agreed to book a scan.
Meantime, we were sent home. But Sebastian was up all night, screaming in pain.
So, the following day I went back to hospital.
‘I’m not leaving until he’s had a scan,’ I said.
Eventually, a doctor examined Sebastian. ‘I can feel his bladder through his bottom,’ he frowned.
Concerned, he arranged an ultrasound, which revealed a mass on Sebastian’s bladder.
I was beside myself with worry, but we had to wait for the biopsy results. The next few days were torture.
Sebastian was put on a morphine drip to help ease the pain.
‘You’re so brave,’ I told him. ‘You’re just like Superman!’
A week on, in October, we got the results.
‘I’m afraid it’s bladder cancer,’ a consultant confirmed.
Sebastian had a 5.6cm tumour on his bladder wall. His ureter, which was only supposed to be 2cm long, had been stretched to 7cm. It explained why he was in so much pain.
Luckily, the cancer hadn’t spread so could be treated.
Three days on, Sebastian began chemotherapy at The Royal Marsden Hospital, London.
A few weeks after his first round, he fell asleep on my lap. And as I stroked his hair, clumps of blond locks fell out.
I didn’t want to scare him, so carried on stroking his head until it was all gone.
When he woke up, he was bald. He was too young to notice, but Luke and I held each other and cried.
Over the next few months, chemo ravaged Sebastian’s body. He stopped producing blood cells and had to have transfusions.
Finally, in January 2016, the tumour had shrunk enough for doctors to operate.
Sebastian needed a third of his bladder removed, along with the tumour. The five and a half hours he was in surgery were terrifying.
‘He’s a little soldier, he’ll be fine,’ Luke comforted me.
Thankfully, the surgery was a success.
After, Sebastian needed a new treatment called brachytherapy.
‘It’s a type of radiotherapy which only blasts the cancerous cells,’ a doctor explained.
It meant the treatment would hopefully preserve his prostate, bladder and bowel, so he wouldn’t be left incontinent.
‘Sebastian will be the youngest in the UK to have it,’ we were told.
So, for the following three days, Sebastian had his body in a brace from his chest to his knees, while 16 rods were inserted between his penis and testicles.
The therapy then blasted the cancerous cells.
But while he had the treatment, Luke and I couldn’t touch him.
‘I’m sorry, no cuddles allowed,’ a doctor said.
The radioactive material was so powerful it could affect me and Luke if we hugged him.
Sebastian was distraught.
‘Mummy cuddle,’ he cried, looking at me with teary eyes.
It felt like a dagger through my heart when I had to tell him no.
At the end of the treatment, when it was safe, I pulled Sebastian onto my lap.
‘Mummy cuddle,’ he smiled.
I smothered him in kisses, didn’t want to let him go.
After, doctors were confident Sebastian was going to be fine.
Back home, we settled into family life. Sebastian was soon running around, playing with his toys.
His hair started growing back, too.
In November, scans confirmed there’d been no regrowth of cancerous cells.
It was the best news we could possibly hope for.
Sebastian’s nearly 3 now. When I look at how far he’s come, it brings tears to my eyes.
I treasure every moment with my boy. And now I’m making up for all those lost cuddles!