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Lionhearted Lenny’s legacy

FAMILY: Lauren Henwood holds twins Isla and Lenny while seven-year-old Nicholas plays with his father Nick. The family has organised a toy drive in memory of Lenny, who died from childhood cancer.

FAMILY: Lauren Henwood holds twins Isla and Lenny while seven-year-old Nicholas plays with his father Nick. The family has organised a toy drive in memory of Lenny, who died from childhood cancer.

By Colin MacGillivray
The searing grief of a mother whose child has died is a torment many can only guess at.
For former Horsham woman Lauren Henwood it has been the reality of the past six months without her little Lenny.
Lauren’s son was just six months old when, in August 2017, she and her family received news that brought their lives to a standstill: Lenny had cancer.
It began innocuously, with a fever and a lump.
For the first few months of his life Lenny had been like any other child – happy, healthy and playful.
He was bright and friendly, with a gentle smile, a glimmer in his eyes and unruly tufts of dark hair.
He was adored by Lauren, her partner Nick Baskharon and their two other children – seven-year-old Nicholas and Lenny’s twin sister Isla.
When Lauren noticed Lenny had become sickly and lethargic she – and two doctors from whom she sought advice – put it down to a virus.
It wasn’t until she found the lump that everything changed.
Lenny was quickly diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma – a common form of childhood cancer.
“We had tried to get pregnant for two-and-a-half years and couldn’t,” Lauren said.
“We ended up doing a couple of rounds of intrauterine insemination and got pregnant with twins, and we were over the moon. It was the happiest I have ever been.
“The first six months we were so happy – we’d drop Nicholas off at school and I’d play with the twins all day, then pick Nicholas up from school and we’d all play together.
“When Lenny was diagnosed, life just came crashing down. It’s a world-shattering experience.”
The shift was immediate for Lauren and her family.
One day Lenny was at home and happy. The next he was in hospital fighting, and they were right there with him.
Initial signs were encouraging. Lenny’s tumour appeared to be manageable and doctors were hopeful.
“We caught it quite early and his cancer was always pretty under control,” Lauren said.
“The oncologists said it was a bit of a hybrid, and that it was very rare for it to be such an aggressive tumour and for his whole body not to be riddled with it.
“We said, ‘that’s okay, 18 months of treatment and he’ll be fine’.
“There is no other alternative really – you just say to yourself, ‘we’re going to get this, then life can restart’.”
After responding positively to five gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, he was allowed home for a few weeks to celebrate Christmas with his family.
It was a time they cherish.
“We got a bit of a break and were able to make some memories at home during that time,” Lauren said.
“He was healthy and getting a bit chubby, and we worked really hard to get him ready for the next lot of treatments he was going to be doing.
“He was really happy and we all had a great time.”
It was the last time Lenny would be out of hospital.
He celebrated his first birthday with his family and the nurses and doctors of the oncology unit at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital on February 20 last year.
The next day he took a turn for the worse.
“His first birthday was the last day that he was crawling and happy,” Lauren said.
“Even though we didn’t know it, he was already terribly sick, and the day after he didn’t do anything all day.
“Then we found out how sick he was.”
Lenny had veno-occlusive disease, a liver condition that caused fluid to seep into his stomach. He became jaundiced and had a tube inserted into his stomach to drain excess fluid.
During the next few months Lenny was moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit and put on life support several times.
On more than one occasion Lauren and Nick were told he was unlikely to survive the night.
Finally, nearly a year after his initial diagnosis, Lenny’s struggle was over.
He died on July 6, 2018.
A long road
Lauren has had to learn to live with her grief since Lenny’s diagnosis.
So too, has her family.
Lenny’s ordeal has changed each of them in ways they could not have imagined.
Ultimately, it helped them find solace in each other during their darkest personal moments.
“I’d never seen my partner Nick cry,” Lauren said.
“We’d had three kids and I’d never seen him shed a tear until the day Lenny got diagnosed.
“Now I see him cry all the time.”

Laura Henwood and Lenny.

Lauren Henwood and Lenny.

Extended family closed ranks around Lauren, Nick and their children, helping them get through each day.
“My mum ended up taking six months off work to help with Isla,” Lauren said.
“Nick stopped working in February when Lenny got really sick, but before then we were trying to juggle work as well. It has brought us closer together.”
The family member most touched by Lenny’s battle was Nicholas.
Seeing a gravely ill family member is hard for anyone to comprehend, let alone a seven-year-old, but Nicholas simply took every opportunity he could to connect with his younger brother.
“It has been very hard for Nicholas because he adored Lenny,” Lauren said.
“At the weekend instead of going to the park or playing with his friends, he would pack up his toys and colouring books and spend all day in hospital so we could be together as a family.
“There are not many seven-year-olds who would be happy to do that.”
While Nicholas was saddened and sometimes confused by what was happening to Lenny, he never made life difficult for his family.
“Some kids need to know an awful lot of details, but I’m very lucky that he didn’t need to know,” Lauren said.
“We let him know the first time we were told Lenny wasn’t going to make it through the night.
“We hugged, and said, ‘you have to have faith – Lenny is very strong and we have to believe that he’s going to make it, because he needs to feel that we believe in him’.”
Heartbreakingly, Lauren said Nicholas struggled to remember a time before Lenny was hospitalised.
“He didn’t really remember Lenny at home, because he was so young,” she said.
“He just knew he would go in and read stories and play with Lenny and try to keep him entertained.”
Overwhelming support
Lauren and her family’s grief has brought them closer not just to relatives, but to old friends and complete strangers.
Lauren said she had always been independent, but found herself overwhelmed by people’s generosity.
“I don’t think I had much faith in humanity until Lenny got sick,” she said.
“I would be in the street crying with a complete stranger and they would feel what you feel.
“Even though they know nothing about you they just want to help you, which is a really sweet thing to do.”
Despite not having lived in Horsham for more than 10 years, Lauren said a close group of her old school friends had rallied around her when she began sharing Lenny’s story on her Facebook page ‘Lenny The Lionheart’.
And when Lauren decided to organise a toy drive for the Royal Children’s Hospital in Lenny’s honour, her friends and family in the Wimmera were again at the forefront.
Comfort Inn Capital Horsham offered to serve as a collection point for toys, and Lauren said it already had a full load to send to Melbourne.
She said a toy drive for the hospital was the best way she could think of to celebrate Lenny.
“He had his first and only birthday at the hospital and I wanted to bring some joy, because they brought some joy to his only birthday,” she said.
“I wanted to try to make the kids happy at the hospital for his birthday. I thought that was the only thing I could really do that was worthy.”
Nicholas made the first and most important donation of the toy drive.
“I asked him if he wanted to be the first person to buy a present for Lenny and he said, ‘yes please, let’s go to Kmart’, and he went into his bedroom and got his pocket money out,” Lauren said.
Staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital were touched by Lauren’s gesture.
“I spoke to our social worker at the hospital and she said it would be nice to have a little sprinkle of Lenny around the hospital again.
“They miss him terribly and they have his photo up in their staff room.”
Mixed emotions
There is no handbook for dealing with grief.
Lauren is pregnant again, and admitted her family’s emotions were mixed.
Their joy at welcoming a new member is tempered by sadness that Lenny is no longer with them.
Lauren said Nicholas was struggling to come to terms with the news.
“He said, ‘if it’s a boy it’s going to be really hard because I’m going to want it to be Lenny’.
“I said, ‘we’re all going to want it to be Lenny, but it’s not going to be Lenny and we have to be okay with that’.”
It is a tough time for the family as they try to navigate a set of complex emotions, but there is one thing Lauren hopes their grief can be – constructive.
“Childhood cancer doesn’t get much help or recognition, so now that I’ve got time I’d like to try to help others,” she said.
“That’s the way I can leave a legacy for Lenny and make his time mean something for other people.”
Lenny’s legacy is alive in many places.
It is alive in all those who remember his fighting spirit.
It can be heard in the sad, proud quavering of Lauren’s voice when she speaks of him.
It is kept alive with each toy donated in his memory, each toy that finds its way to another young, sick child and another grieving family.
If Lenny’s legacy can lessen others’ grief and, however briefly, make them smile, then it is not one of grief at all – it is one of joy.
• People in the Wimmera wishing to donate to Lenny’s toy drive can leave new toys or gifts at Comfort Inn Capital Horsham, at 109 Firebrace Street, until February 20.
For more information, go to ‘Lenny The Lionheart’ on Facebook.

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Posted on Jan 16 2019

Posted by on Jan 16 2019. Filed under FEATURED, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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