It took Henry Hallam’s family two days to open all his birthday cards. The 4-year-old cancer patient received well wishes from faraway places, such as Hong Kong, New Zealand, Germany, and Japan. At over 700 cards in total, Henry’s mom Elsbeth is trying to encourage Guinness to open a new category and declare the collection a world record.
737 Happy Birthdays
Henry's battle with cancer has lasted more than a year. He has neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that mainly affects children and infants. Even if Henry's treatment works, doctors say, there is a 60 to 80 percent chance the cancer will reappear. Recently, he missed his fourth birthday because he was receiving treatment. But after being let out briefly to celebrate, 737 belated birthday wishes arrived at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, all addressed to Henry.
The sudden flood came thanks to Hugs for Henry, an online appeal set up by Henry's parents to crowdfund the half-a-million pounds needed for their son’s T-cell transplant and antibody treatment — a set of procedures he would have to receive in the U.S., as the UK doesn’t offer them.
“It’s quite unbelievable to see all these cards,” said Henry's father, Mike. “It’s a great feeling to see Henry literally surrounded by cards with supportive messages. We’ll enjoy going through and reading them all one by one.”
Neuroblastoma has a disproportionately high mortality rate for how many people it affects. Although only 100 children in the UK contract it annually, some 15 percent of cancer deaths in children are due to cases of neuroblastoma. The disease is not often associated with genetics — only one to two percent of cases are familial in cause — but rather, environmental factors that are not well understood. Early exposure to infection, maternal habits and occupation (i.e. exposure to chemicals, smoking, alcohol, etc.), and certain fertility drugs have been implicated in the disease’s origin. Like many forms, however, the specific etiology is spotty and inconclusive.
Two days into opening cards, the family is still receiving more each day. Elsbeth speculated that they’ll keep coming for months. In the face of her son’s ugly battle with the cancer, each card helps ease the pain, if only momentarily.
“Although his birthday was at the end of August, they are still arriving and I expect they will keep coming for months to come,” said Elsbeth, who works as a nurse. “It would be fantastic to set a world record. This past year has been a nightmare, it’s a hideous disease and he’s fought so hard.”
Receiving The Help They Need
The earliest signs of Henry’s disease came in his infancy, according to the appeal’s website, as he was in and out of the hospital constantly. Over time, his health seemed to improve, but in September of last year, Elsbeth noticed a bump on her son’s head that wouldn’t go away. Elsbeth and and Mike took him to the doctor. They were told to keep an eye on it, but the bump never subsided. Soon, Henry’s legs gave him pain. He walked with a limp. A concerned Elsbeth and her husband rushed their son to the emergency department. The following morning they received the crushing news: Henry had cancerous tumors throughout his body.
“Our whole world collapsed around us,” Elsbeth and Mike wrote. “For that moment time stood still. Coming to terms with Henry’s diagnosis was so difficult for us, and even though I knew the worst had been confirmed I kept thinking, they must be wrong – not our little Henry.”
For Henry, who wants to be a superhero when he grows up, overcoming financial hurdles is the largest obstacle right now. Doctors peg his chance of survival at five percent if he stays in the UK. So far, the family has raised just under £105,000 ($164,556).
“Henry loves hugs. He also loves Superman and Spiderman and dreams of being a superhero when he grows up,” wrote Elsbeth and Mike. “In our eyes Henry already is a superhero but please help us to give Henry the chance to grow up.”