Hearing the words “your child has cancer” is every parent’s nightmare, but it is a stinging reality many devastated mums and dads are forced to face.
It’s one Donald and Lisa Easton, from Brightons, and Elaine McDowall and John Taylor, from Bainsford, had to come to terms with when their beloved daughters Ashlee (10) and Hollie (5) were diagnosed with childhood cancers and their worlds fell apart.
Ashlee was diagnosed in February 2013 and mum Lisa spent a lot of time in Yorkhill Hospital as she received treatment – which included a stem cell transplant – while dad and big brother Jayden (12) stayed at home in Brightons.
Ashlee’s story touched the hearts of thousands of our readers. Her pals at Wallacestone Primary began a fundraising effort to give the family a holiday to Disney which caught the attention of a former Mariner now living in New York.
Bart McDade, originally from Camelon but now a successful businessman in the Big Apple, donated $5000 to the campaign which eventually raised a total of £10,760, which the Eastons used to go to Florida for a family holiday when Ashlee was recovering.
The family faced another blow, however, when they got the news in July last year that the cancer had returned and she is battling it once more.
While in the hospital Lisa and Donald struck up a friendship with Hollie’s mum and dad Elaine and John while she was receiving treatment for a rare malignant rhabdoid tumour at the top of her lung cavity shortly before her second birthday.
Hollie endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, responding well at first to treatment. But in January 2015, tests revealed the cancer was back and medics had run out of treatment options as it was too dangerous to remove the whole tumour due to its location.
The family was told she did not have long to live, months even, and to enjoy what was left of her young together.
Miraculously, in May that year a second scan revealed the tumour had shrunk and her health started to improve. A recent scan has shown the tumour has grown very slightly but the family has renewed hope.
Elaine (37) said: “It’s really hard to describe how you feel when you are told your child only has months to live. Your body just caves in. It was horrendous, you are sick to the pit of your stomach with dread and fear.
“We were being prepared for the worst going on previous cases. I just remember saying to my mum that I couldn’t face picking her up from the nursery that day, but when I did my attitude changed.
“When I saw her little face I just thought, ‘this is not over’. I needed to have positive mental strength and get on with it and play with the hand you’re dealt.
“We went to the Royal Marsden hospital in London to discuss a trial for treatment, but it would have meant a lot of travelling with no guarantee and we didn’t want to put Hollie through all that.
“We’re glad we did that now. She wasn’t meant to see the age of four but she is so strong and we are so proud of her.”
Ashlee has been in hospital this week with mum Lisa (43) receiving bone marrow treatment this week.
Both families have joined forces with the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) charity to raise awareness and funds for cancer research for World Cancer Day on Saturday (February 4).
Lisa said: “We were devastated when routine scans revealed our gorgeous girl had relapsed. We thought, ‘How can life be so cruel after everything she had come through?’.
“Ashlee has now started treatment and she has lost her lovely hair again. As parents all we can do is keep strong, have hope and pray that she can beat this again.”
She added: “We have become good friends with Elaine and John during these awful times in our lives and have given each other support and would like to give something back to the people who have supported us too.
“We want to unite for World Cancer Day and help raise awareness by asking if people would buy a Unity Band. We are raising money for Neuroblastoma research and Hollie’s family are doing it for research into rhabdoid tumours.”
For more information, to donate or buy a pin badge, visit www.cclg.org.uk/AshleesNeuroblastomaAppeal or text CCLG 5 ASHLEE to 70300 to donate £5.
For Hollie, visit www.cclg.org.uk/The-Hollie-Taylor-Fund or text HOLLIE to 70500 to donate £5.
CCLG is working with nine other charities to unite everyone in what is being described as a “powerful life changing act” – wearing a Unity Band.
Director of CCLG Ashley Gamble said: “It’s always inspiring when parents, having heard the devastating news their child has been diagnosed with cancer, want to do something to help others.
“Like many childhood cancers, those affecting Hollie and Ashlee are in need of further research to help us find more effective treatments. Through our Special Named Funds programme, we’re pleased to help Hollie and Ashlee’s families and supporters raise funds for research into the specific types of cancer affecting them.”
According to CCLG, more than 30 children are diagnosed with cancer every week in the UK and Ireland and two out of ten children will not survive their disease.
Over the last 40 years, CCLG has played a key role in the major improvements in survival rates and the standards of care for children.
However, there are still some childhood cancers with a poor outlook and many treatments can have long-lasting side effects meaning further research is vital.
Individually, all ten charities change the lives of millions of people every year through their work in the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those with cancer, but they share a goal to bring the impact of cancer to the forefront of everyone’s minds on World Cancer Day and make a bigger difference.
Mr Gamble added: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with our World Cancer Day charity partners and be involved in a campaign that will make such a huge impact.
“The Unity Bands signify strength in unity, which is aptly demonstrated by our charities working together to encourage the public to get involved with World Cancer Day and make a donation.”
Wear your Unity Band® on February 4, 2017, World Cancer Day, as a symbol of support and unity for everyone affected by cancer.
For further information visit www.cclg.org.uk/wcd. You can also text CCLG 3 UNITE to 70300 to donate £3.