Samuel Van Emden was days away from starting primary school when he and his family received news that changed their lives.
The four-year-old was diagnosed with leukaemia and told he faced years of treatment.
“Our world fell apart,” said his mother Charlotte Van Emden.“What was supposed to be an exciting time for the family turned into long hospital stays and gruelling treatment.”
But four years on and the family are celebrating as Samuel’s treatment is finally nearing its end.
The Van Emdens have been told he will be discharged by Great Ormond Street Hospital at the beginning of February. And, according to tradition, he will mark the moment by ringing the hospital’s “end-of-treatment bell”.
Mrs Van Emden, from Shenley, Hertfordshire, said: “We are so excited to get our lives back.”
Samuel was diagnosed with the blood cancer in September 2014.
“We had been away for the summer and Samuel had been complaining about a bad back,” said Mrs Van Emden.
“Before then he was the kind of kid who would be running around even with a high temperature. He did not complain, ever. We had no signs he was ill.”
His parents called an emergency doctor who diagnosed a virus. But when the pain returned two weeks later, Mrs Van Emden knew something was seriously wrong.
“A friend advised that I go to see a paediatrician who recommended that we do a blood test. By this time Samuel was so weak he had no strength to fight infection. It was terrifying.
“When the results of the test came back we were told he had leukaemia.”
It was at that moment her life changed. “Telling him was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. We just explained to him very plainly that he had bad blood and we needed to make it better.
“Our lives since have revolved around treatment. He turned into a different child — he had months of intensive chemotherapy, he lost his hair and his eyelashes.
Mrs Van Emden said: “He said to me: ‘Mummy, if I lose my hair I won’t be Samuel anymore’. That was heart-breaking. We explained that, no, it doesn’t mean that and he will always be Samuel.”
Now seven, Samuel is looking forward to enjoying life to the full at his school, Radlett Preparatory.
Mrs Van Emden said: “It has been detrimental to his development, but we are hoping he will bounce back. His school have been amazing in providing him with extra help.”
Samuel said he had mixed feelings about the end of his treatment.“I feel happy because everything is finished and I’m free. I can eat whenever I like and have no more tablets. But I may miss it sometimes. I’ve met lovely nurses and when I have a temperature they look after me.”
The family have been helped by Camp Simcha, a charity that supports families in the community with seriously ill children. “They have taken us away on family days; they have provided buddies for Samuel and his sister Ella, who was only two when he was diagnosed. They were always at the end of the phone if I needed them,” said Mrs Van Emden.
Samuel, who will attend his last medical appointment on February 3, is to donate an end-of-treatment bell to his local hospital, Watford Genera.
Mrs Van Emden said: “If Samuel ever had to go in the hospital, they were always so lovely and supportive. He can’t wait to ring the bell there. We are just so glad that finally it will all be over.”