Dagboek van Philippa/ Philippa's diary
Email: philippa@rdenhollander.nl                                   Last update: 10-01-05 23:21.







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Open letter


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This is the Christmas letter we sent to family and friends in December 2004.

Lelystad, December 12 2004

Dear family and friends,

When I sat down to write a Christmas letter in the past I enjoyed looking back at the year gone by and often had to think hard about what had happened because of what we had managed to fit into 12 months. This year it is very different; the discovery, diagnosis and treatment of Philippa’s illness has consumed our lives to such an extent that everything before and since is a blur. This letter is therefore a way for us to put our experiences into perspective.

In January we celebrated Francesca’s 8th birthday; she is turning into quite a young lady – tall and skinny as a stick insect with the flame red hair she was born with. She’s doing well in school but has unfortunately inherited her mother’s habit of doing too many things simultaneously and day dreaming. She has at last made a best friend called Laura, they are equally hot tempered and stubborn and share the same daft sense of humour which makes for an interesting friendship. They amazingly almost never argue but instead have had to learn to give and take.

Towards the end of January we noticed that Philippa had what appeared to be an ordinary if somewhat large bruise on her upper arm, it wasn’t giving her any pain and we assumed that it would disappear as time went by. A couple of weeks later it still hadn’t disappeared and, to cut a long story short, we went to the doctor. After being fobbed off by a locum at the first visit I trusted my gut instinct and went back a couple of days later. The bruise continued to change colour and grow rapidly and our own doctor immediately ‘phoned the hospital surgeon in Lelystad. Two days later the surgeon made the diagnosis with an ultrasound that it was not a bruise and that although he did not know what it was that he wanted to operate within two weeks. We felt uneasy (again) about his lack of expertise and having consulted family members in the medical field we asked for a second opinion from someone who was an expert in this field.  One week later we found ourselves opposite the top plastic surgeon in the Netherlands, Professor van de Horst who took one look at the bruise and discounted the opinion of the surgeon we had seen and said she thought that it was a tumour. That same afternoon we were sent to several departments for various investigations so that we wouldn’t have so come all the way back to Amsterdam again. The operation was planned for two weeks later and in the meantime we met the oncologist who took the case over because of the Prof. Van de Horst’s vacation. Looking back I think that the Professor handed the case over to the oncologist because she had her suspicions. The ten days that followed the operation were gruelling until we finally had the devastating news that Philippa had cancer.  Mam and Dad were staying with us at this time and witnessed at first hand how our lives were turned upside down. The very next day we were due back in the AMC (Acacdemic Medical Centre Amsterdam) for a lumbar and bone marrow puncture to determine whether the cancer had reached her central nervous system and bones. We heard one day later that this was not the case and we were elated – we learnt later that the prognosis would have been poor if it had spread to this stage. The next day (Friday) we found ourselves back in the hospital for the beginning of a long and arduous treatment.

The intensive treatment was due to be 12 weeks but due to Philippa’s severe toxic reaction to one of the chemo drugs, another treatment plan had to be devised which would give the same degree of protection. The intensive treatment finally ended in August, 5 and a half months after we began ! We all breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated this fact with a huge party on a farm in Lelystad. The warmth and care of the friends and family there was tangible and we both realized how special the bond had become in the six months that had passed. I want to pay tribute to the way that René’s parents put their lives on hold for us for the entire period, cancelling holidays that they had planned and jumping in the car in the middle of the night to take care of Francesca, Isabella and Joshua so that Philippa, Benjamin, René and I could go to the hospital whenever an emergency occurred (and that was more than a few times). There were several times that they had the children for a whole week while Philippa had long treatments or was so ill that she had to be in isolation, and they even managed to organize places in the local school for them so that they did not have to miss any education. Friends who sprang into action taking one of the children at a moments notice when Philippa was taken unconscious by ambulance to the intensive care department in the AMC, Mam and Dad who ‘phoned every day, parents who asked day in day out how we were doing and were prepared to listen to our worries, offers of help, Cathy and Kees our friends who stood by us day and night and last but by no means least, the incredible staff of the AMC whose professionalism and expertise in treating children knows no limits and Philippa’s oncologist Dr. Marianne van de Wetering for whom I have only admiration and respect.  We would not have been able to cope anywhere near as well as we did if it had not been for all of these family and friends.

It is hard to believe that anything else has happened this year apart from the treatment of Philippa’s illness but time doesn’t stand still for anyone. Isabella had her 7th birthday in April and we were thrilled to be able to have a party for her in between two trips to the hospital. I found myself unpacking and phoning her friends at the same time to invite them for an impromptu party the next morning – unbelievably they dropped everything to make it a lovely day for her. She is really blossoming into a young lady, confident and popular amoungst the girls (and boys!) at school. In May Joshua had his 3rd birthday and Mam and Dad will tell you he is an adorable little terror – he can wrap just about anybody around his little finger and has an unrivalled repertoire of winning looks and eyelash batting. His language ability is coming along in leaps and bounds, 80 piece puzzles are a doddle for him and his passion for cars and trains shows no signs of abating. Benjamin celebrated his first birthday in June and although I would have liked to have had a bigger party for him, by this point in Philippa’s treatment we were reaching our limits of physical and emotional energy. He is a gorgeous little chap; walking by now with confidence and with enough character to stand up to his bigger brother. He has recently started to say words and plays very happily with any one of the girls or Joshua. Philippa’s 6th birthday in November was a quiet family affair -  after the huge celebration at the end of her treatment it was lovely just to have family and close friends around us. She is doing very well in school considering how much time she lost in hospital – she reads with ease and is a popular play mate.

As for René and I well the last year has taken it’s toll on us. We were devoted DIY’ers but we have to get back into the swing of things, it takes time to come to terms with what has happened to us and no doubt we will always be extra vigilant with Philippa’s health for the rest of her life. She still has to take chemo medication every day and will do so until March 2006. The oncologist is very satisfied with her progress and her blood values have remained constant now for a few months, we are however still nervous at each monthly check up in the hospital just in case the doctor finds an enlarged lymphatic gland. But we remain positive and enjoy life to the full.

Right now things are as hectic as they always are at this time of year – René is very busy at work and I am up to my eyeballs in projects both at home and at school. I make time for hobbies and René plays squash once a week but it is sometimes a battle for a place in the family diary. But in between the rushing to and fro I do try to remember what it is we are celebrating – God sent us Jesus to give us hope and peace and sometimes it is only in the midst of adversity that we remember this fact.

I wish you all a very joyful and blessed advent and Christmas and a healthy and happy 2005 and with a bit of luck we may see each other next year.

All our love,


Ekenstein 18,
8226 RH Lelystad,
The Netherlands.

www.reneden.freeler.nl   rene.den.hollander@freeler.nl