Seren Mawson

Life is better playing together

Seren's Story
Seren is a six year old girl with blond hair and a big beaming smile, that's her on the left.

She loves games of all sorts and has been coming to the UK Games Expo for the last two years. However things have changed for Seren since December and now she won’t be coming to Expo this year

This is Seren's story of why she won't be joining us this year.

Christmas 2018

Last Christmas Seren was preparing for her role as a Shepherd in her school’s Christmas play. Seren was at her father’s for a few days before but when Mum saw her at her nativity play she noticed that Seren was not looking well and was an “odd colour”. A quick visit to the doctor’s who said they weren’t too worried; probably a cold or virus or a bit anaemic, but that they would send her to the local hospital for blood tests to make sure.

Bloods were taken at an early 8:45am appointment and two hours later Kate got a call. The hospital needed her to come back in with Seren and told her she should pack an overnight bag. At George Eliot Hospital they didn’t say much just that Seren’s bloods were not as expected and that they wanted to do further tests to rule some things out.

“I told myself she was probably just really anaemic.”

Arriving at the hospital they were then blue lit to Coventry Hospital and Kate’s unease grew as she realised the doctors weren’t prepared to wait for a normal mode of transport. George Eliot hadn’t said much but they had said Seren’s haemoglobin level was very low. Very low in this case was 34. To put this into perspective, a premature baby’s count would be 80, a normal adult’s at 180. Staff told Kate later they didn’t really understand how Seren was still upright. Kate sat in the ambulance with her daughter, mind racing.

“It couldn’t be that bad, Seren didn’t have any other symptoms except feeling a bit tired. Perhaps this is just really good service and because she is a child they are pulling out all the stops”.

Looking back, Kate sees now that as a mum your mind doesn’t let you think the worse, it’s too much, the consequences too awful so you reinforce the idea that things will be fine.

On arrival at Coventry Kate’s worst fears were realised. They told her that they were screening Seren for cancer. However, she may just have a virus and they couldn’t rule anything in or out at this time but they did need to give her an emergency blood transfusion. Sixteen hours earlier Kate and Seren’s world had been a normal Christmas story. At midnight they gave Seren the first of two blood transfusions, the transfusion was split because her system was two small to cope with it all in one go.

Seren remained in hospital while a raft of tests were performed. Seren herself perked up, played loads of games, did school work and told her mum “this is great, I get to eat all my dinners in bed”. However, as the week wore on Kate told us that:

“Everyone was starting to panic a bit now as they were ruling stuff out. The nurses knew with each result that it was becoming more and more likely that it was something really quite awful. On the Sunday night I had a terrible conversation with my mum where I said ‘I’m hoping that the Children’s Hospital say that it’s leukaemia because the other options are worse’.”

Kate remembers it was an horrendous thing to have to say out loud. Sunday was her lowest point.

On the Tuesday, the Children’s Hospital performed a bone marrow test and at 11:30am Serens parents were taken into a small room and told that Seren has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). After the last week, Kate said that she felt quite relieved to finally know what it was, Seren now had a good chance because the numbers for childhood leukaemia survival were high. However, this was going to be a long hard fight for Seren and all those around her.

Seren remained in hospital for her first course of chemotherapy from the 18th December right through until Boxing Day. This time was a whirlwind but Kate said she had to accept that “her baby has cancer and now your mum brain kicks in. Those are the facts. She needs me to be strong and help her through this.”

The treatments had quite an effect on Seren, steroids made her look puffy, the chemo made her lose her hair, there were constant visits and stays in hospital. Lumbar punctures, general anaesthetics, intramuscular injections and many other treatments followed. In order to deliver the chemo Seren had to have an operation to put a Hickman Line into her heart because the drugs are to powerful for the tissue in her young arms. When asked what things she hated about the treatment the most Seren who is incredibly brave said,

“Injections are the worse, changing the cannulas are second and third...the smell of the clinical wipes.”

Gaming girl

Long stays in hospital can be boring and in a children's cancer ward there are many things that would frighten an adult never mind a six year old child. Keeping Seren occupied became a focus. Luckily Seren is a gamer. As we all know, gamers can wile away endless hours given the right games. Seren started bringing in her favourite card games; Exploding Kittens, Dobble, Strawberry Ninja, Happy Salmon, Rory’s Story Cubes and her absolute favourite; Unstable Unicorns. Nurses and doctors started to take notice as they hadn’t seen these types of games before and Seren was able to enact the ancient gaming ritual of teaching newbies how to play and then thrashing the pants off them. Kate said that she could see that in a world where Seren had no control, where things happened around her and to her, gaming was a time where she knew more than the adults. It gave her back some control. The play therapist at the Children’s Hospital came to see Seren’s games and so Seren became more than a child with cancer, she was Seren, the girl with the really cool games. Her mum said;

“It gave her self confidence, made her feel comfortable with the nurses so when she wanted to ask a question she felt she could. Gaming helped her have a relationship with them. It normalised and stabilised her environment.”

Seren and Kate didn’t just sit back and turn in on themselves. Looking at everyone around them they began to raise money. Some was raised to help Seren directly and much more to benefit several charities from whom they had received help. So far £10,000 has been raised and Seren and her mum along with their friends continue to hold charitable events, very impressive for just three months.

Why Kate contacted us

“If we can raise awareness of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia then sharing Seren’s story has made a difference. I just thought my daughter was a funny colour and a bit tired. If even one parent goes to the GP a week sooner than they might have done otherwise, then we have done a good thing. Early detection is so vital.”

If you are at all concerned about your child then please see the website links in the side bar. You can also see where to help raise funds via Seren’s Facebook page and donation website.

Seren’s Saturday Happy Salmon ALL Stars

We would also like to announce that at this year’s UKGE there will be a special free event on Saturday at tea time (6:00pm) where we will play a big game of Happy Salmon for Seren in Hall 3a. It is free to play but you can donate to Seren’s charity at that event. We will video the game so we can send it to Seren who will also be receiving her 2019 ‘Expo-in-a-box’ so she can enjoy the weekend from the safety of her home.

Ring the bell!

As we finished our chat with both Seren and Kate we talked about the future. Treatment for ALL will take more than two years and Kate told us it will be a while before Seren can ring the bell. We asked "What bell?" At the children’s hospital they have a big bell mounted about three feet off the floor in the Cancer Ward. When a child is deemed all clear and can finish treatment the staff line up either side of the corridor and the child walks down to applause and rings the bell. It is a bell that rings for hope and achievement and I know the whole gaming community stands with Seren for the day she can ring that bell.