I can hardly believe I am waking up today as the mother of a teenager. How can it be thirteen years since the moment you were born and I had the son I secretly wanted all throughout my pregnancy?
It only seems like yesterday that you were fixated with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and shouting “Beep Beep help!” in the middle of the night when you wanted my attention. Or the first day of school when I held your little hand and you trotted by the side of me with your rucksack almost as big as you, eager to meet your teacher.
I still vividly remember you going to your first rugby session at the age of 5 and playing your first game at the age of six.
I’ll never forget how I cried when you moved to the Juniors, and had to leave most of your friends behind, as you were the youngest in the year group.
And four years on, I sobbed my heart out again when you had to leave the Juniors and embark on your next adventure in Treorchy Comp. In your leaver’s concert where you all sang Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” but changed “castle” to “school”, I couldn’t stop the tears as I was so nervous for you to take that next step and be a little fish in a big pond again.
As it happened, I had no need to worry as the Comp has been the making of you. It’s brought you out of your shell, you have gained confidence, are flying academically and you have made some lovely new friends who have you in stitches most of the time.
But it’s this last year that I have seen the biggest change in you. I seem to have blinked and you have grown up overnight (well not up as such, we all know you don’t grow) but you seem older in your ways and far more independent than you have ever been.
I was so proud of you when you completed the Welsh 3 Peaks with ease last month and raised over £2,500 for JDRF, in the hope that they will one day find a cure for Fin. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for your encouragement and support every time I faltered, I would never have made it.
I’ve loved our Friday afternoon lunches, just the two of us, catching up on the week and sharing everything that’s been going on that we haven’t had time to talk about.
And as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, I wait with baited breath for you to turn into a raging, hormonal mess and yet, to date, it hasn’t happened.
Don’t get me wrong, you address me as “bruv” or “boss” more often than “Mam” these days, your phone is glued to your hand and you seem to be out with the boys at every given opportunity, but one thing that hasn’t changed is your personality.
Always trying to be helpful, you make me tea when I am stressed and are always the first to ask how I am if I am ill. You still end a phone call with “love you” even when you are with your friends and when I recently dropped you off for a school trip and stopped around the corner so I could say Goodbye without embarrassing you, you told me to “Get a Grip” and that you didn’t care.
You are kind, caring and one of the loveliest kids I know and I am incredibly proud to be your mother. There’s a long way to go until we get through the teenage years and I’m sure there will be plenty of bumps along the way but as you said to me the other day when we talked about people changing; “Look Mam, if I turn into a knob in the next few years, I promise I’ll be back to normal by the time I’m 18.”
And after 13 pretty perfect years, I can’t really ask for more than that.
Happy 13th birthday, my boy, my number 1, my G! (haha)
It was a normal day in May 2014 and for some reason, I had grabbed the mail as I had left for work that morning, stuffed it into my bag and forgotten about it until lunchtime.
Lunchtime came and the first letter was “To the parent / guardian of Finley Rhys Gough”. I assumed that it was his next routine diabetes appointment as we had been to the last clinic a week previously for him to have his annual bloods.
I opened the letter and read “Some of Finley’s bloods have tested positive for Coeliac Disease….”. I didn’t get any further than that. I felt sick and without saying a word, picked up my phone and went to outside to ring Andrew.
I don’t remember what I said, I just remember feeling absolutely devastated that he would have to learn to live with ANOTHER life long condition. Andrew, as usual, calmed me down and told me to read the letter properly and to ring the hospital to see what they had to say.
Upon reading the letter fully, I read that they wanted to repeat the tTG blood test in case of a spurious result in the lab. I contacted his team and they told me that his levels had come back over 200 (20 times the normal range) but that I was to do nothing at this point until the second tests came back and they booked him in for the following week.
I was in a daze all afternoon and when I arrived at the school gates and saw his gorgeous little face beaming as he ran towards me, I really struggled to keep it together.
He absolutely hated having the blood tests at the hospital and so when I told him that he needed to go back, he immediately started crying and asking me why? So, I told him that there was a nasty monster called “Gary Gluten” (first name that came into my head) who lived in some foods and if he got into people’s stomachs he could cause them to be ill. The test would tell us whether “Gary” had got into his stomach and if he had, we would have to buy special foods that he couldn’t get into. He seemed to accept this and didn’t mention it for the rest of the day.
In the meantime, I was googling all sorts. The likelihood of a spurious lab test, what a tTG over 200 meant and all the signs and symptoms of Coeliac Disease. The good thing was, he didn’t have any of the most obvious signs outlined on the Coeliac UK website. Symptoms include diarrhoea and other gut symptoms, faltering growth or a change in growth pattern, irritability and a bloated tummy.
This picture was taken just after the blood tests, where he looks a total picture of health. The only thing I could put my finger on that was different over the preceding months was that his stools had been a pale yellow colour and that he had complained of “achey legs” once or twice which was out of character.
The following week came and the bloods tests were, as usual, an absolute nightmare. I had to sit him on my lap and cuddle him while they had this singing donkey blasting to distract him which Andrew was waving around in his face. Looking back, it must have looked ridiculous but it was the only way to get him to comply.
A week later, the results, again, came back with a tTG over 200. They had also sent a sample to the University of Wales hospital for an IgA EMA test which had come back as “strongly positive” for Coeliac Disease and I was told that his consultant would be in touch.
Although I was gutted that this meant that he did have the condition, I was far more positive due to having a few weeks to come to terms with the possibility. I had ordered personalised stickers from Ebay, some with a thumbs up and some with a monster’s face on. When I got home from work, I told Fin that we had found out that Gary Gluten had found his way into his stomach and that we would need to check all the foods in the cupboard and stick the monster faces on everything that he was hiding in and put thumbs up on all the foods where he wasn’t.
This formed part of a game for him which he enjoyed and we spent a good few hours going through all the cupboards. I then took him to Asda to pick some treats from the Free From aisle and I remember there was nothing like the variation you see today. The only things remotely “treat like” was some dairy free fudge (being rather naive at this point, I didn’t realise normal fudge was gluten free) and some crumpets. We bought these and headed home, with a view to being gluten free from that day on.
The next day, I was contacted by his consultant who told me that whilst his results were enough to be fairly certain of a Coeliac diagnosis, they wanted to be extra sure and were referring him to a Dr Ieuan Davies at the UWH Cardiff to have a duodenal biopsy taken. This procedure would require a general anaesthetic. I lost it at this point and demanded to know why the 3 positive results weren’t enough. I was told that this was the standard practice for our health board and to ring the consultant’s secretary in a few days to find out how long the waiting list was. In the meantime, I was to carry on feeding him gluten as normal.
I felt sick. They expected me to deliberately feed my child something that I knew was harming him. Something that was harming his intestines so badly that the level of anti-bodies in his system were more than twenty times what they should be.
I had two choices.
Do what they said and wait for the appointment or
Remove gluten from his diet and risk never having a formal diagnosis.
As much as I wanted to go with option 2, I knew that Coeliac disease could cause other long term issues and that children were supposed to be monitored annually after diagnosis, to ensure the levels of antibodies had dropped. If Fin didn’t receive a formal diagnosis by a clinician, he would never receive the follow up care he needed and so that was no longer an option.
So, I decided to go with Option 3. Feed him 2 pieces of normal bread per day, make the rest of his diet gluten free and do everything in my power to get him diagnosed without a biopsy.
I spent hours googling the various methods of diagnosis across different health boards and came across the BSPGHAN guidelines and in particular, the following guidance.
If tTG raised—and greater than 10×upper limit of normal for assay: Take further blood sample to check IgA-EMA and determine HLA-DQ2/HLA-DQ8 typing. If EMA+ and patient either DQ2 or DQ8, the diagnosis is conﬁrmed without the need for a duodenal biopsy. If EMA antibody testing is not locally available, a second strongly positive tTG antibody may be substituted and serum saved for later EMA testing.
Knowing that Fin had two tTG tests which were 20 times the upper limit and a positive IgA EMA test, this was all I needed to know and I decided then and there that there was NO WAY I was allowing the biopsy.
All I had to do now, was to get a health professional to agree with me.
I left it three days and rang Ieaun Davies’ secretary. Her phone rang and rang and so I managed to obtain another number for a pool of secretaries who informed me she was on sick leave. She promised to try and find out whether they had received the letter and get back to me. She didn’t.
So I rang her over and over again, until there came a time where I feared she may take out an injunction against me! Eventually, I managed to speak to the secretary who had returned from sick and she promised to review the letter, speak to the consultant and get back to me. It took another few phone calls but eventually she called me back and said they had reviewed the results and whilst they were strongly indicative of Coeliac Disease, it was still hospital policy to perform the biopsy and so they had put him on the waiting list which was approximately six months.
Six months!! Six months of deliberately poisoning my child with something I knew was harming him. There was just no way I was prepared to do it.
I joined a support group and found lots of families who had received a diagnosis without a biopsy which just fuelled my belief that it was totally unnecessary.
I then looked into seeking the advice of a private consultant and contacted the Spire Hospital in Cardiff who made me an appointment with Dr Huw Jenkins, Child Health Consultant for a week later.
The day came, the 17th of June 2014, and I turned up to the appointment with Fin armed with all his test results and the research that I had done, ready for a fight.
He asked me all about his medical history and explained that Coeliac and Type 1 Diabetes went hand in hand. He also told me that he had assisted in drawing up the BSPGHAN guidelines and was very familiar with the recommendations.
He then took one look at both sets of tTG results and the positive EMA and said “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this child has Coeliac Disease. He has had all the tests that he needs to confirm it and there is absolutely no need for a biopsy. I will write to his consultant today to confirm my diagnosis and he can go gluten free immediately.”
And I wanted to jump across the desk and hug him!
It was a strange feeling to have my fears confirmed and feel grateful, but this boy of mine had been through enough. He was already getting poked and prodded with needles 8 times a day due to his Type 1 Diabetes and so there was no way that I was putting him through a totally unnecessary procedure, especially one that came with risks of it’s own.
I must have thanked Dr Jenkins at least 20 times and as we walked out of the room and I explained to Fin that the doctor had confirmed that he wouldn’t be able to have any foods with “good ole Gary” in, he looked at me and said “OK Mammy, let’s go shopping!”
And shop we did. There was a Waitrose directly across the road where I let him loose with a basket and his own scanner and he chose anything and everything that he wanted.
And we haven’t really looked back since. Coeliac has become part of our lives as much as Diabetes has. It’s just part of who Fin is and he totally accepts that. He never complains and is convinced that he is a better rugby player because of his gluten free lifestyle!
He has had his bloods done every year since and each of the 4 annual tTG results have been between 3.3 and 3.8 which are classed as negative so we know there is no gluten at all making it’s way into his diet, through cross contamination or otherwise.
Here he is, each year since his diagnosis. Looking healthy and always smiling!
If your child is being investigated for Coeliac and has two tTG results of over 100 (ten times above normal), please know your rights and request the genetic type test for HLA-DQ2/HLA-DQ8 along with an IgA EMA screening. If all of those are positive, then a duodenal biopsy should not be necessary.
Ten years ago today, at 1:15pm, after an emergency entry into the world, you were finally placed into my arms. You immediately looked up at me with those huge blue eyes and a shock of black hair and I turned to Daddy and said “He’s going to be wicked!”
You had a glint in your eye from mere minutes old. You were such an easy child and you and your brother bonded from the very first moment you met, becoming the best of friends from day one.
And as you grew, and your personality started to shine through, you proved that initial statement of mine to be true over and over again.
Because you, my boy, are quite simply, bonkers!
You are THE happiest child I have ever met. Every day, from the moment you wake up, you are immediately cracking jokes and singing. Just the other night, me and Daddy stood laughing in our bedroom while you sang the Hokey Cokey on the top of your voice repeatedly whilst you were in the shower for absolutely no reason at all!
Despite having more than your fair share of trauma to deal with in your life, you take everything on the chin and are determined not to let anything get you down. Within days of your Diabetes diagnosis, you were smiling and telling me how much you loved sugar free jelly and when the Coeliac diagnosis came, you just accepted it and said, “Let’s go shopping!”
You always have a smile on your face and it’s impossible for anyone to be miserable around you; your personality is infectious.
Your one true love in life is rugby and since the age of 5, your world has revolved around the game. You are never happier than when you are on that field, ball in hand, or flying in with a tackle and it is in those moments, when I watch the grit and determination in your face, that I sometimes have to pinch myself to realise that you are achieving so much more than I ever thought you would.
In this last year, you seem to have matured so much and are becoming increasingly independent.
Your rugby game has improved massively. You have such a presence on the field but you are also developing into more of a team player and it’s been lovely to see you making so many new friends from the various teams that you are now part of.
You are absolutely loving your new nickname ‘Gibbsy’ after being told by one of your coaches that you remind him of Scott Gibbs and I think I hear you get called that more than your actual name these days!
From a social point of view, you no longer feel anxious about leaving the house without me and the minute you have a message from one of the boys, you are grabbing your rucksack and heading out of the door without as much as a backward glance.
You have started inserting your own cannula, making treatment decisions without guidance and being much more aware of how to bring down a high blood sugar or increase a a low.
And whilst I am incredibly proud of the young man you are turning into, it is so very hard to let you go.
Because the truth is, having you around makes me a better person. It’s impossible to be miserable around you and I can quite often come in from work, feeling incredibly stressed yet within minutes, be in fits of laughter because of something you have said or done.
I can’t even imagine a time where I don’t see you every day or we don’t exchange a sarcastic comment or an eye roll at the expense of others! These 10 years have absolutely flown by and it makes me sad to think that in 8 years from now you could be heading off to University.
I am so unbelievably proud of you Fin and it is an honour to call you my son. I hope you have a fantastic birthday and I look forward to all the good times that lay ahead because “even though you are growing up, you should never stop having fun!”
Today marks 7 years since you were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
I remember getting home from the hospital and once you were safely tucked up in bed, I started scouring the internet for information and joining support groups to try and make sense of our new world.
During these searches, I came across posts from people who were celebrating their child’s “diaversary”, otherwise known as the anniversary of their diagnosis, and I’m not going to lie, I was appalled.
What on earth was there to celebrate? How could they be celebrating the worst day of their lives? The mere thought of it, made me feel sick.
But then as I read on, I realised that it wasn’t the diagnosis itself that they were celebrating, but what they had achieved in spite of it.
In the last 7 years, you have endured over 700 insulin injections, over 20,000 blood tests and over 750 cannula insertions. Having needles stuck into you is part of your daily routine. You are frequently woken in the middle of the night to drink apple juice and there are days when you are exhausted from a night, blighted by hypos.
But you never moan, you never complain and you have the best attitude to life that I have ever known.
In the last 7 years, despite what you have had to endure, you have achieved so much more than I ever thought possible and there are so many things that I am grateful for.
I am grateful for your older brother. The one who is there for you no matter what. The one who gets to try everything out before you have to, so that when your time comes, he can reassure you and tell you that everything will be fine.
I am grateful for our large network support. Family and friends that are not scared to learn and are determined to be able to look after you, so that we feel supported and can go to work knowing you are in capable hands. I know it’s a cliché but family really is everything, please never forget that as you get older.
I am grateful for the way technology has advanced since your diagnosis. We have gone from two injections a day and a really restrictive routine to eating whatever you want, whenever you want and checking your blood sugar on your Apple Watch. It’s insane how much things have improved in such a short time and I am so excited to see what the future brings for you.
I am grateful for all the holidays we have enjoyed since your diagnosis. For such a long time, I was afraid to take you anywhere further than an hour from home in case something happened. But, an Orlando holiday in the October of 2012 had already been arranged before we found out about your condition and so once we nailed that, we never looked back!