About this blog

This blog documents the story of our family after our daughter Yasmin was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was two years old, just six weeks after our son Isaac was born. Now, four, Yasmin finished all her treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in October 2014 and she had her port out - marking the end of her treatment in February this year. The first post can be found here or you can read how my husband Andrew and I felt when we got the diagnosis and when Yasmin started the most intense phase of treatment. The main purpose of the blog is to raise awareness of childhood leukaemia and its impact on families and to raise money for the different charities that have supported us during the most difficult of times. We have helped to raise £33,000 for charity so far, including £30,000 for Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital where Yasmin is undergoing treatment and £2000 for Haven House hospice. This year Andrew and I will hike Ben Nevis for Children with Cancer. Anyone wishing to donate can do so at our fundraising page here. You can get more information on Facebook or you can follow me on Twitter here. The blog and our fundraising efforts regularly feature in national newspapers and magazines while the BBC has covered our fundraising here and ITV here.

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

WHY WE ARE CLIMBING BEN NEVIS FOR CHILDREN WITH CANCER UK


Just a week to go before Andrew and I attempt to climb Ben Nevis (1,344m) for Children with Cancer UK. Support us here!

When we were told that Yasmin had cancer our consultant told us the 'good news' - that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most curable childhood cancer which gave Yasmin an excellent prognosis. (The bad news was the treatment would last between two and three years).

ALL used to be a death sentence with only one in ten surviving but this is now reversed with nine in ten surviving. This is because of the money that has poured into leukaemia research since the 1970s and 1980s. Cricket hero Ian Botham started his mammoth walks across the country to raise funds after a group of kids with leukaemia that he had met in hospital died. Many other people have dedicated time, effort and brilliance into finding a cure.

Isaac and Yasmin show me how it's done
Money raised for research goes directly into saving lives and for improving outcomes for children like Yasmin. Children with Cancer UK fund all kinds of trials including one currently underway trying to find ways of bringing the ALL cure rate up to 100%. They are also targeting cancers where the prognosis is currently not so good.

As many of you know, I was supposed to hike Ben Nevis last year but got sick with pneumonia due to the stress of dealing with Yasmin's cancer treatment while caring for baby Isaac. Instead Team Gosh, organised by my parents along with Greer who was fundraising with me for Haven House, completed the trek to the top and back down again - taking between eight to ten hours for the 16 mile walk.

This year Andrew and I are hiking Ben Nevis with ten-year-old Ed Gordon-Thomson, who like Yasmin, was diagnosed with ALL when he was two. You can read all about Ed and his family here. Joining us on the Climb with Ed are Loose Women presenters: Linda Robson, Nadia Sawalha and Kaye Adams and wildlife presenter Nigel Marven – so we imagine it will be quite a riotous few days! Already the Climb With Ed team has smashed our target of £20,000 – let us make that even higher!

I have been training quite hard for the past two months, but we have been warned that the weather conditions are very challenging at the moment which doesn’t inspire confidence.
But we are determined to do it!



Sunday, 26 April 2015

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MOTHER OF A CHILD WITH CANCER?


August 2012, Great Ormond Street
This photograph was taken by Andrew two days after Yasmin had been diagnosed with leukaemia and when Isaac was just six weeks old. We came across it the other day when Andrew was sorting through pictures showing everything we have been through. This is August 2012, and we were living at Great Ormond Street. I don’t recall having seen this picture before but when I saw it the other week, I immediately broke down in tears.
For me, this picture absolutely encapsulates the chaos of the first few months after Isaac’s birth with Yasmin seriously ill and starting intensive chemo treatment. I was pulled in two by the all-encompassing needs of a new-born and a seriously ill child.
Here I am breastfeeding one baby while trying to comfort the other and I am smiling. I imagine Andrew has just made a joke.
This was a time when I never got more than 45 minutes uninterrupted sleep and that went on for months and months and so of course, I look exhausted.
People often say to Andrew and I: “I don’t know how you did it, we would have just fallen apart,” and this always makes me feel that they imagine when you face something like childhood cancer you collapse to the floor and flail around shouting “Why me? Why my child?” And certainly, this does happen, from time to time, inside your brain, but never outwardly.
When you are responsible for two small children you cannot fall apart. You keep going. You smile and make jokes and make everything appear normal, even huge needles stuck in small hands, retching and orange medicines, hair falling out in clumps and living in hospitals where strange men and women in blue come in every hour to check and listen and prod. You see the same smiles on the faces of all parents in child cancer wards.
A few weeks ago, when I looked at this mother in the picture with her new baby in her arms, and pale gaunt child by her side, I felt desperately sad and so sorry for her, that she didn’t get to spend those joyful hours and days just breathing in the scent of her baby’s skin, his hair, trying to tease out that first smile, grasping his tiny fingers.  Instead the world outside this hospital room almost ceased to exist and every day was about survival.
I also felt no relief at the end of treatment. We had a lovely party for Yasmin’s End of Treatment a couple of weeks ago complete with cake and candles with everyone singing: “Happy End of Treatment Party to you…”
Of course, we are delighted that the treatment is all over and that we have two perfect, healthy happy children, ours to nurture and grow. But there are times when I still feel as though I am carrying three years stress around and it has not yet been released. I am half expecting this to happen at the most inappropriate time, like a valve suddenly opening – whoosh. Perhaps instead it is on slow release, coming out gradually, such as when I saw this picture.


A few weeks have passed since I first looked at this picture and I have enjoyed a wonderful Easter holiday with the kids. Today, I look at this picture and feel differently. For although it still makes me sad, I also feel proud. For I see resilience and strength and the love and unity of a happy family. Besides, I am no longer the mother in that picture. I am no longer the mother of a child with cancer. Just look at us now.

Gruffalo Trail, April 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

WINNING AN INSPIRATIONAL MOTHER AWARD!

My mum, Yasmin and I were thrilled to win an Inspirational Mother award on Saturday in the Three Generations category of the prestigious awards organised by the Caron Keating Foundation.
My dad and my mum nominated Yasmin and I last year (and we made the shortlist although we did not win) and this year my mum's nomination put us into the Three Generation category. It was a very glamorous occasion at the Mayfair Hotel in central London with a champagne reception and afternoon tea.
We met some fantastic people on our table: Donna Harrington who is raising money for her eight-year-old daughter Emilie who has cerebral palsy and needs surgery in the US and Anna Kennedy, OBE, who is an ambassador for autism and set up a centre for excellence for teaching children with autism.
Last year, when we attended the ceremony, Yasmin was on steroids which made it hard work but this year, it was a delight to watch her and Isaac dancing as a harpist played classical music.
As my mother's beautifully emotional note about why Yasmin and I should win was read out both kids were hiding and singing under the table and I had to haul them out to go up on stage to receive our trophy.
All the award winners on stage

My mum was a worthy winner as, as well as helping to look after newborn baby Isaac along with my mother-in-law Sandra (equally a life-saver) while Andrew and I were dashing back and to to hospital, she has travelled regularly across the country to help out, and also organised a fundraising hike up Ben Nevis last April with my dad, which raised more than £4000 for Great Ormond Street. My mum is a fantastic mother and grandmother, and along with my dad, has always been my inspiration.

Award winners from my table
I have to report that although Andrew has been working on the election all Easter and so we have seen little of him, the kids and I have had a blissful time. We have had loads of days out, a trip up to my parents - which for once did not have to be cancelled due to a hospital emergency -  and days out on the beach. Last April, was one of the worst months in Yasmin's whole treatment as Andrew was away and everyone in the house got adenovirius. Yasmin was hospitalised for five days and I ended up with pneumonia! This year we have managed to get through the whole of Easter holidays with just two hospital visits - one emergency one when Yasmin's face swelled up in reaction to suncream and a monthly check-up at Gosh on Friday. If you haven't been through this, it is hard for me to convey how difficult it has been, but I have not been able to enjoy being with my two children for more than two or three days like this without a hospital visit or infection meaning we have all had to stay at home, hardly ever in three years. But there, we just had the best Easter holiday enjoying each other's company, happy to be alive.


:: Andrew and I are hiking Ben Nevis at the end of May to raise money for Children with Cancer. The charity is currently funding several trials which hope to improve the outcomes for children whose cancer relapses. Help us to support this incredible work here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

YASMIN, 4, FINISHES LEUKAEMIA TREATMENT AT GREAT ORMOND STREET AFTER TWO AND A HALF YEARS!




On February 16, two years and eight months since we first took Yasmin into A and E with symptoms of leukaemia and two years and six months since she started treatment, we drove into Great Ormond Street for Yasmin's final part of the acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) protocol - the removal of her port.
This port was first put in in October 2012 and it has been regularly accessed with a needle since then and used to deliver chemotherapy, antibiotics blood and immunoglubulin transfusions or to take blood out for testing. It has helped to save her life. Yasmin was only two when she started treatment so she has no memory of a life without her port, without needles and syringes. When we have talked to her in recent weeks about her port coming out she has said, "I don't want my port out, I like my wiggly.' It has become a familiar friend.
We had to drive Yasmin starved into London because of having an anaesthetic for the operation but once we arrived Isaac and Yasmin played happily for hours in the playroom before it was time for her to go under around 12pm.
I felt deeply emotional as I chatted to some of the nurses and the fantastic play specialist on Safari. We noticed another family newly arrived that day into the world of the seriously ill children.
 It was almost an hour before we were called to find Yasmin in recovery. We had been warned she would be in a bad mood but she was deeply distressed to find a cannula in her hand - a precautionary measure in case of an emergency now that the port was no longer there. It took me 45 minutes to calm her down enough to eat her lunch and have a drink before they could remove the cannula. From then we had our warrior child back.

The wonderful charity End of Treatment Bells has been putting bells into children's cancer wards and I contacted them last year in the hope that one would arrive before this day. Happily, it arrived just days before and Yasmin was the first bell ringer. When I first read the words on the sign many months ago, my eyes filled with tears as I imagined a time when we would be able to ring this bell. 
"Ring this bell, three times well, its toll to clearly say, my treatment's done, this course is run, and I am on my way."
Now, after many stops and starts, here we were. Doctors and nurses gathered around to hear Yasmin ring the bell and, with a little help, she rang it many many times as everyone cheered and clapped.
 Not long afterwards, highly emotional once more, I thanked a couple of key members of our team telling them, "This is the best hospital in the world, thank you so much for saving Yasmin's life."
"It is very much a partnership and we often overlook the role that parents play," one of the nurse specialists replied.
Andrew and I watched Yasmin and Isaac playing in the corridor, both full of life and energy, and we remembered the child we had brought in there all those months before: skinny, frail, in excruciating pain, unable to walk and clinging to me and Andrew. We remembered being given the diagnosis, not being able to imagine an ending to the nightmare we had been plunged into. 

A short while later, we took two healthy, happy, children home. This part of our journey is over.