Harris was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer) at 9 months old in July 2022. We had absolutely no idea and only found out because he developed a sore throat upon returning from a family holiday to Greece.
We attended an out of hours appointment on the Saturday at Preston hospital and explained we were concerned by his reduced appetite, bloated tummy and seemingly sore throat.
Our suspicions were confirmed, Harris did have a throat infection, but unfortunately that wasn’t all we had to contend with; his blood results showed significantly elevated tumour markers and an ultrasound scan showed abnormalities in his liver.
We were transferred to RMCH the following day and over the course of the week he underwent MRI and CT scans, had a biopsy and was fitted with a central line.
We were told Harris would ultimately need a liver transplant for cure and also found that the tumour had spread to his lungs, making Harris ‘Very High Risk’.
We began the chemotherapy protocol and whilst Harris did respond to the treatment overall, his lungs didn’t clear after several rounds of chemotherapy, so in April 2023
Harris underwent two lung surgeries to enable a subsequent liver transplant. In June, he was fortunate enough to receive a donor liver and then completed his final course of chemotherapy in August (his 16th in total).
You never expect it will happen to you, but when you’re plunged into the oncology world of chaos and uncertainty, you end up on a ward in a hospital you’ve never been in, not knowing what you might need for the journey ahead. Receiving a Milly bag at this point is invaluable, it has everything you need to get you through the darkest and most chaotic first few days when your world has been turned upside down.
Our Milly bag has remained the emergency hospital bag, always packed ready to go, as you never know when a fever will creep up on you and you need to make the dash to A&E!
Matthew suddenly deteriorated in one weekend. I had taken him to our local A&E on the Saturday and we had been sent home with antibiotics for an ear infection.
On Sunday morning I couldn’t wake him, and it was later we found out he was having back-to-back seizures. We were rushed to hospital by ambulance back to A&E, and due to his presenting symptoms, he was scanned straight away.
It was just a short time later that we were told Matthew had a brain tumour and that we would be going to The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital straight away for emergency surgery.
However, when we arrived Matthew was so unstable that he the surgeons were not able to complete his operation and he was taken to the Paediatric ICU for 10 days, before he returned back to theatre to have his surgery completed.
Whilst Matthew was on PICU we were told that Matthew had a very rare cancer called ETMR – there was no specific treatment protocol but Matthew would need to start chemo as soon as he was well enough. This turned out to be 2 weeks after his last surgery, and this was when we were moved to Ward 86.
After his first cycle of chemo Matthew’s oncologist showed us a research paper which confirmed the treatment, he was having wouldn’t provide him with long term survival. The decision was made to stop the current treatment and instead Matthew had very high dose chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and 30 sessions of proton beam therapy.
Matthew was coping extremely well with all this until he unexpectedly had a stroke in January of this year, for which he needed further surgery and a stay in the high dependency unit.
There have been other admissions both during and after treatment but currently Matthew is doing really well.
He has had to learn to walk and talk again, and he had the needs of a new born baby. Most children diagnosed with ETMR will not survive past their 4th birthday, Mathew starts school in September and we could not be prouder of him.
Thank you for what you do for oncology children and their families, Matthew’s rainbow blanket is a favourite of his and something that connects all these lovely children together. His Milly Bag is a staple in our house, not just for hospital, but anytime we go away.
My daughter Matilda was just 10 months old when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Retinoblastoma.
I first realised something wasn’t right when I noticed a glow in her left eye when she was about 3 months old, then I noticed her eye starting to turn to the side.
I kept taking her to the doctors only to be told that everything was completely normal. But I knew that it wasn’t, it was weird because I never in a million years thought it could be cancer, I just felt something wasn’t right,
We had an appointment in Manchester in March 2020, just as Covid hit, and we were told Matilda had retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer that affects young children.
We were transferred to Ward 84 without any notice. We live in Preston and had nothing with us as we were not expecting to be admitted.
My mother-in-law had to drive all the way back to get us some belongings for our stay.
Then we were gifted a Milly Bag, which had absolutely everything we needed in it!
I was so grateful and cried when I was handed this. It was so thoughtful and really helped us throughout our cancer journey.
Matilda is now 4 years old and doing well. She still has her rainbow blanket as her comfort, and we cannot forget Ellie the elephant, who has also been her comfort throughout her journey and remains her comfort to this very day!
So many parents talk about doctor’s failings in diagnosing their children, education not only for parents but for our health care professionals is paramount, early diagnosis can mean better more positive outcomes for our children.
“Our son, Peter, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in January 2019.
Prior to his diagnosis he was a fit, healthy, energetic eight year old, but in the month running up to his diagnosis, he started to complain of back ache.
We thought we had a rational explanation for it. He had been under the care of a podiatrist for tip-toe walking and then he broke his big toe playing football which forced him to walk on his heels.
The back ache began just after his toe healed up and we rationalised that it was due to him walking differently for two weeks. But the back ache persisted.
On Christmas Eve 2018, he was upset and couldn’t get to sleep because his back hurt and he had tingles running up and down his leg. The day after Boxing Day, he couldn’t keep up on a family walk. We took him to the GP that afternoon. Her words: ‘We don’t like to see back ache in young children’.
She made a referral for blood tests but gave us the green light to continue with a holiday to see family in Edinburgh for New Year.
We didn’t make it back home for the blood tests.
Peter’s symptoms escalated to wobbly walking, losing his balance and struggling to go up and down stairs. On New Year’s Eve 2018 we took him to my mum’s GP who immediately referred us to A&E.
There, Peter was seen by a registrar and then a consultant and then he was having an MRI, all in the space of two hours. It was incredibly scary.
When the news came that he had a growth in his chest, and that a small part of it was pressing on his spinal cord, and that he was being admitted to hospital, we didn’t know what to think.
No one said cancer at that stage.
Three days after being admitted, the part of the tumour pressing on Peter’s spine caused a spinal cord injury, leaving him with no sensation or movement below his chest.
He had an emergency operation to remove the bit of the tumour causing the compression and the next week or so was filled with intense physio and frequent testing to see if he would recover from the injury.
Finally, twelve days after being admitted, we received the good news that Peter’s condition was stable enough for him to move to Manchester Children’s Hospital, closer to home, but the devastating news that the growth was cancer.
Peter was transferred to Ward 84 at Manchester Children’s by ambulance on a Saturday in the middle of January 2019.
I remember feeling completely disorientated for the first couple of days: a new hospital, a new ward, new nurses, physios, doctors, consultants.
But I also remember one of the nurses bringing us our Milly Bag and being overwhelmed by the kindness and thought and care that had been put into it. It was a perfect mix of help and comfort.
Peter spent six months in hospital, unable to go home between chemo treatments because he was still having intensive rehabilitation for his spinal cord injury.
His Milly’s rainbow blanket and elephant stayed on his bed the whole time.
His Neuroblastoma was localised in his chest so his treatment was shorter than it might have been. He had chemo, surgery, radiotherapy and maintenance treatment finishing altogether in February 2020, eight months after coming home from hospital.
Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. Peter relapsed in August 2020 with a tumour on his skull bone and this time the cancer had spread to his bone marrow and pelvis.
He spent a year going in and out of Ward 84 Day case for treatment, sometimes returning to Ward 84/86 for inpatient stays.
Our Milly Bag was exactly what we needed for hospital stays and the rainbow blanket and elephant went every time too.
Three years later, we have just had the amazing news this summer that the disease still visible on Peter’s scans is no longer active and he is effectively in remission again.
He is still on treatment for another six months and regular scans will continue for the foreseeable. He hasn’t fully recovered from the spinal cord injury but he has learned how to adapt to it and is as active and energetic as a full-time manual wheelchair user as he ever was before injury.
We go forwards with hope, knowing that future Neuroblastoma relapse is possible but thankful to be back in a place right now where Peter is healthy and well.
And we will always be thankful for the day we were handed our Milly’s bag, because it’s not just a bag, it is smiles and treats and help and comfort and, more than anything, a caring heart just at the moment you need it.”
You don’t move on after loss, but you must move with. You must shake hands with grief, welcome her in, for she lives with you now. Pull her a chair at the table and offer her comfort. She is not the monster you first thought her to be. She is love. And she will walk with you know, stay with you now, peacefully. If you let her. And on the days when your anger is high, remember why she came, remember who she represents. Remember. Grief came to you, my friend, because love came first. Love came first.
Donna Ashworth – ‘Wild Hope’
Our 4th SOULS meeting took place last weekend, it warms my heart to see these lovely people arriving at the unit, open to spending time with strangers who are now becoming friends.
We share our stories, our joys and our heartbreaks, we have an unspoken understanding because we are the same, we walk to the same path in life and we are ultimately joined by an invisible bond.
As we work on our chosen crafts we wonder if our precious children are watching down on us, proudly saying that’s my mum/grandma/sister/brother.
Along the way we manage to create some fantastic pieces, at our group this month we worked with resin – and some fabulous designs were created.
Our groups are open to parents, grandparents and siblings who has experience the loss of a child – they are completely free to attend. Please get in touch for more information.
On the 7th of May, LFP Civil and Environmental Engineering held a charity day at Victory park, the home of Chorley FC.
The day included 3 very competitive football matches with teams from LFP, Peel Sports Turf, Peel Pumps and a rest of the world team – consisting of players from CLP, Wardell Armstrong, Hilton Grand Vacations and Fox Brothers. Peel Pumps edged it in the final to beat LFP to be the first holders of the ‘Graham Eckersley Trophy’.
Alongside the football there were several activities such as a raffle, an auction, inflatables, cake sales, donut sales and much more.
The day was very successful and helped raise just over £9,000 for several charities; Milly’s Smiles was fortunate to be one of the chosen charities, and we received an amazing amount of £1,000!
A massive thank you to Matt who organised the whole event, choosing Milly’s Smiles after his daughter Camille received one of our Milly Bags earlier this year.
We appreciate the support so much, it will allow us to continue supporting children and families newly diagnosed with a cancer related illness.
Our fabulous delivery team Graeme and John had a good trip over to Leeds Children’s Hospital this week where they safely handed over 20 Milly Bags to Ward L31, 32 and 33.
Thankfully the sun shone for their journey over the Pennines and they were as always, greeted with smiles from the lovely ward team.
It is always an honour to be able to support families at the point of diagnosis and subsequent admission into the wards and we never take this privilege for granted.
On arriving back in Lancashire we received this beautiful smiley photo of a young man currently being treated on L31, his mum told me “Me and my son are in here at the moment he’s on the cancer ward and we couldn’t be more thankful for one of your bags a few weeks ago . It helped us and he loves the blanket and the hat ! Thank you !!!”
Thank you to everyone who continues to support us tirelessly and to all our volunteers you are simply awesome!
This months meet up was slightly depleted due to holidays and sickness, however it was another lovely afternoon, spent with people who are quickly becoming friends with a shared bond.
We spent the time chatting and painting our fairy houses which proved to be very relaxing, we could hear the rain beating down, yet we were warm and comfortable in our meeting room.
Loulou’s Meringues kindly donated a selection of cake treats for us all which were delicious, they were very quickly polished off during the session!
These monthly meets give families the chance to spend time with people who understand and the benefits in attending are significant and include:
Realising you are not alone
Being able to express your feelings within a safe and supportive environment. This can be a very therapeutic and healing experience, particularly as you will find others in the group listen non-judgmentally, and agreeing that they too have similar feelings.
Gaining hope, it is very powerful to see others in the group who are further along their road to recovery and who have been able to work towards a happier life, living alongside their grief. Having these role models shows that recovery is attainable and this brings renewed hope for the future.
Increased self-understanding. Families will learn and share effective ways to cope and handle difficult situations. They will gain better understanding about themselves.
Helping others – as families benefit from support they will be able to help new members grow and make progress. They will be able to affect others positively by sharing their story, their challenges and fears.
Affordability – groups are free to attend, there is no financial cost at all.
Our sessions are open to all families who have lost a child, no matter how recent or how long ago. If you are thinking of coming along or would like to know more, please do get in touch, we would love to speak to you.
Back in November 2021, Tesco Great Harwood set up a charity bookshelf, and we were thrilled when they chose Milly’s Smiles as the charity they wanted to support.
Each week Kerry gave us the donations, yesterday the weekly donations took the total amount raised to just over £10,000!
A huge thank to Kerry, Community Champion who works tirelessly to make sure the books are neat and tidy and that there is a regular supply of books for people.
To the generous people of Great Harwood and beyond, thank you a million times over for supporting and donating books and money each week.
On a personal note I used to shop regularly in Tesco with Milly, seeing her beautiful smiling face on our banner when I am at the checkout and knowing the support we are receiving for her charity, really does warm my heart, so much more than I could ever say.
Thank you Tesco, Kerry and everyone supports the book swop, you are helping us to support families and children who have been newly diagnosed with cancer.
If anyone has any unwanted books please consider taking them to Tesco, it really does make a difference.