Annabel is an energetic little girl who loves gymnastics and tennis. She was just six years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia last year.
Annabel’s parents Tim and Sharon are sharing their experience to help raise awareness of childhood cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and to encourage people to support Cancer Fund for Children whose mission is to ensure that no child or family has to face cancer alone.
Annabel had a few colds, a cough and an ear infection after she started back to school in September 2021. We had also noticed bruises on Annabel’s shins but due to Covid restrictions we were unable to be in the gym while she was doing her gymnastics so we assumed the bruises had come from that. She is an active little girl who loves her gymnastics and tennis. However, Annabel started to look very pale and became quite breathless climbing the stairs.
On Saturday 20 November Annabel had a really high temperature during the day, a cough and then in the evening we noticed a faint rash on her face, ankles and arms. We called an ambulance fearing it was meningitis and travelled to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Again, due to Covid restrictions, only one parent was allowed to be with Annabel in the ambulance and in the hospital A&E department.
My mind was racing
After the medical investigation was complete, I was called in to discuss Annabel’s diagnosis. When the doctor uttered the words ‘your daughter has leukaemia’ I burst in to tears. My mind was racing. I was in shock and disbelief that this was happening. I phoned my husband, Tim, to give him the devastating news and when he arrived at the hospital Annabel was admitted immediately to the children’s Haematology Unit where treatment started straight away.
Annabel was six years old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. To say our world was turned upside down is an understatement. Seeing your child receiving medicines, having multiple side effects from those medicines, going through surgical procedures, scans, multiple blood transfusions, and the isolation and mental trauma that can come from such fear and anxiety left us feeling helpless. We felt confused, angry, heartbroken and really overwhelmed with all the medical information. I asked myself countless times how are we ever going to get through this.
Our number one priority is Annabel
As parents, our number one priority is Annabel and naturally we were completely focused on her needs especially in the early stages of treatment. Her mobility has been badly affected. She wasn’t able to stand or even move herself in bed. Her weight had dropped significantly and she suffered badly from side effects from the medicines. Tim and I had little time for ourselves as Annabel needed 24/7 care and this definitely put a huge strain on us.
Not long after Annabel was diagnosed, Regina at Cancer Fund for Children contacted us. It was great to talk to someone who understood what we were going through. We soon came to realise that we weren’t alone, that there were people there to listen and support us as a family. Tim took part in a parent’s webinar about dealing with the rollercoaster ride of childhood cancer which helped him a great deal.
We are so lucky to have Hannah in our lives
We were also offered the support of a Cancer Support Specialist to help Annabel manage her emotions through this journey. Our amazing specialist, Hannah visits our home regularly and has helped Annabel so much with managing her fears and anxieties. Annabel feels so comfortable with Hannah. She is such a ray of sunshine coming in to our home and has given us so much support as a family. She’s so kind, caring and easy to talk to. Annabel says it’s like having a big sister around when Hannah’s with her. We are so lucky to have Hannah in our lives.
We’ve also had a lovely, relaxing therapeutic break at Daisy Lodge. The setting is beautiful, the staff are amazing and it’s great to share your experiences with other families affected by cancer. We would highly recommend that anyone going through childhood cancer stay there.
You are not alone
The one thing we would like other families to know about childhood cancer is that you are not alone. It’s a rollercoaster of a journey but there’s lots of support on offer to help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Cancer Fund for Children have been an amazing support to us as a family and we know that they’ll be there to support us every step of the way as Annabel continues her journey.”
More than a month
We are so grateful to Sharon and Tim for sharing Annabel’s story. If you would like to support children and young people like Annabel during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, please purchase one of our charity wristbands here or donate here.
Together Let’s ensure children and families don’t have to face cancer alone.