There is nothing nine-year-old Azaria Worrell wants more than to sit in a classroom once again.
Bright, curious, and beautiful, Azaria has been fighting leukaemia since May this year.
The load of having to undergo chemotherapy is already a heavy one for this brave little girl to carry.
But the sad look which appears on her face every morning when her 11-year-old brother Keagan, and twin sister Lazaria leave home to go to St Alban’s Primary School reminds her mother, Alicia Worrell, that Azaria is clearly missing school.
“I like school. I want to go to school,” Azaria told Barbados TODAY, as she sat on her mother’s lap eating a pink ice-lolly, at their Doughlin Road, Weston, St James home, on Friday.
“She likes school. She likes school, and church. So this is hard for her. She always asking her brother to go to her teacher and collect her homework to bring home.
“But she can’t go to school until the doctors give the all clear. The doctor was saying maybe she would be able to go back from January. But we will have to see about that. They don’t want her to get an infection. This cancer thing ain’t easy,” said a teary-eyed 30-year-old Worrell, who gave up her housekeeping job to take care of her sick “baby”.
Tears streamed down Worrell’s face throughout the almost hour-long interview.
“I don’t like to talk about it. It makes me cry. Watching her go through this is not easy. I even ask myself, why my child?” she said.
“But we will get through this. We fighting this together. One day I was unpicking her hair and it started to just come out in my hands. It just started falling out in my hands. So we cut it low,” Worrell recalled.
“So she say ‘mummy my hair gone, you have to cut yours now’. So I went and cut mine to show her support. My sister cut her hair low too. The family really showing support, everybody helping out,” she continued.
They found out Azaria had leukemia just weeks after her ninth birthday.
Several tests to find out why Azaria’s tummy was swollen, among other symptoms, confirmed it.
“It started out with a cold and I took her to the doctor and it went away. But then she was still complaining that she was feeling sick. She would be drawing up. She would play a little bit, and then sleep and sleep. So then I took her to the pediatrician because her tummy just started to swell.
“The pediatrician told me she is going to send me to the hospital right away to get blood tests. The doctors come back to me and told me we have to talk. They told me that she has Leukaemia. It was hard. Why it had to be one of mine?”
Azaria started chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis. She also had to undergo additional tests which eventually showed that she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
“She had to get tablets, drips, and like every week she had to get medication that go through the spine. She spent two months in the hospital before the doctors said she can come home.
“She has to take the treatment, then stop, then start again. She always at the hospital. The doctors monitoring her. But she had a relapse in September,” Worrell said, as she watched her daughter complete her sweet treat, which she said she wouldn’t be getting again for quite some time.
In addition to the physical and emotional pain, Worrell said the cancer has altered Azaria’s life to some extent, especially as it relates to her diet.
She cannot eat raw foods, absolutely no fast foods, and is restricted to what snacks she can use.
“She can’t drink pipe water, she can only drink bottle water. She was not eating and drinking at one time, so the dietician at the hospital recommended a juice which is like an Ensure. We have to buy it from a pharmacy and a case of 24 is like BDS$100. She had to get her own toilet,” she said.
Barbados TODAY asked about Azaria’s prognosis.
“They say it is curable,” said her mother, “But they say the one she has is harder to cure. It is going to take two and a half years of chemotherapy before they can say that she is cleared. The only way she would have to travel is if she has to get a bone marrow transplant, but so far she doesn’t need one. But they said if she needs a transplant, then they would see if her sister or her brother is a match first,” Rubbing her hand across Azaria’s head, Worrell said she didn’t want pity.
She explained she was willing to share the experience because she knows there is another mother out there struggling to cope with the reality that their child is sick.
“For a young parent it is really hard, but you just have to keep the faith, and pray. I have hope. There is hope. Azaria is strong. The shocker for everybody is when she started the chemo and doctors said she was going to have headaches and be vomiting and all of that stuff. But when she gets the chemo she would be drowsy because of the medication. But the next day Azaria would be laughing, and everybody would be like she isn’t supposed to be like this,” Worrell said.
When she is not battling cancer, Azaria enjoys spending time with her siblings, or watching educational videos on her mother’s cellular phone.
According to the Myeloma, Lymphoma & Leukaemia Foundation of Barbados’ website, Leukaemia is a malignant disease (cancer) of the blood or bone marrow.
It is characterized by the uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Types of Leukaemia are grouped by the type of cell affected and by the rate of cell growth. Leukemia is either acute or chronic.
Leukaemia is divided into four major categories, including Acute Myeloid, Chronic Myeloid, Acute Lymphoblastic, and Chronic Lymphoblastic.