Published On: Mon, Sep 8th, 2014

From battling cancer to coping with phobias – lessons from Ashya King

The recent news story concerning British youngster Ashya King whose parents were imprisoned for taking their seriously ill young son out of hospital demonstrated an incredible level of bravery.

Ashya King is a five year old boy who is fighting a brain tumor. Unable to convince British doctors to give their son the life-saving Proton Therapy treatment they believed he needed, Ashya’s parents removed him from his hospital in Southampton, England and traveled to Spain.

Their plan was to sell a house they owned there in order to fund treatment at a specialist Proton Therapy clinic in Prague in the Czech Republic. Instead, following a media storm and an international man-hunt they were arrested and imprisoned for three days in a Spanish jail. After a 72 hour nightmare Brett and Naghemeh King were finally released without charge. Meanwhile their little boy, frightened, and confused, was left to battle his cancer alone in a foreign hospital bed.

This is a heart-rending story in all sorts of ways. The nightmare of childhood illness, the cold, blind insensitivity of bureaucracy and the salaciousness of the media are all aspects that do little to raise the spirits. But the courage shown by the Kings can be a source of inspiration.

Ashya King’s parents did what any parent would hope to do for their child. Confronted with a system that appeared ready to sacrifice their little boy on the altar of economic management they took matters into their own hands. In the face of the most awful fear they were courageous enough to put everything they had – possessions and, as it turned out, even their liberty – at stake in order to try to make little Ashya well again.

photo/Alyssa L. Miller creative commons via Flickr

photo/Alyssa L. Miller creative commons via Flickr

What makes the Kings so impressive is not only their devotion to their son – itself a lesson to us all – but the way they set aside their own concerns to do so is no less uplifting. What they did was incredibly brave. Brave in the sense that they knew they were taking a medical risk in moving Ashya from his hospital bed in England; brave in the sense that they were putting themselves at loggerheads with authority, and brave in the sense that they did what they believed in despite the untold fears that all those things entailed. 

As it turned out, the Kings were reunited, and thanks to a great swell of public support, they were able to raise the money needed for Ashya to benefit from the cutting edge Proton Therapy treatment that he so desperately needed. We wish him well.

There is a lesson here. The lesson concerns fear in all its forms: in the nightmarish scenario experienced by the King family just as much as the way we each go about coping with phobias of our own. The lesson is that fear itself can be overcome, that what we call courage comes in many different guises, and that although it may surprise us, we each of us have the capacity to be so much braver than we know.

Author:  Henry Arnold

On the DISPATCH: Headlines  Local  Opinion

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