Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now
  • Personal Stories

“You have to look for the good things or you will fall apart”: how families face childhood cancer together

by Phil Samba | Personal stories

26 February 2024

0 comments 0 comments

An image of Jasper during his cancer treatment next to one of him with his parents years after it was finished.

When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, the impact is felt by all who love them. Five families share the realities of loving and, tragically, sometimes losing a child with cancer

This is a non-independent article produced as part of a commercial deal with Guardian Labs and originally published on the Guardian website.

There are around4,200 new casesof cancer in children and young people each year in the UK. Thats 12 families a day whose lives are changed for ever. When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, their loved oneslives are upended too, from the emotional turmoil to the practicalities of work. However, the pain of a diagnosis often brings families together to get through their darkest moments.

We had to work as a team to overcome all of the obstacles”

Alice Lilley, from south-east England, is the Mum of Jasper, 12, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour called a medulloblastoma aged five.

While Jasper was getting treatment, me and my husband, Darren, were never at home together as one of us was always at the hospital with him. We missed simple things like family mealtimes, because even when Jasper was at home he felt too unwell to eat and couldn’t bear the smell of food cooking. 

It was a very daunting time: always waiting for the next operation or procedure, coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and trying to keep life as normal as possible so that Jasper could still enjoy some aspects of childhood.


We could not have got through this experience without the support of our loved ones. It has brought us closer as a family as we have had to work as a team to overcome all of the obstacles thrown at us. We try to make the most of every day together and appreciate how lucky we are that we have Jasper in good health and that he is able to lead a happy, fulfilled life. 

We are a strong unit” 

Dawn Collins, from Hampshire, is Mum of Teiva, 13, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May 2019 aged nine.

Teiva’s diagnosis turned our world upside down and it hasn’t been the same since. I feel she has missed so much, and that we have missed so much as a family. We didn’t want our older children to feel neglected, and we did our best to make sure they felt supported in what they were doing. I had to stop working, too, which had massive financial implications. 

Teiva has recovered from the cancer, but her body is still struggling. She is still having so many side-effects from treatment. She is on steroids for adrenal gland problems, and has experienced leg pain, gastrological issues, constant nausea and regular headaches. People think things would be back to normal when the chemo finished but she still feels so poorly most days, and we still have different hospital appointments all the time. 


We know how important family is and we are a strong unit – there is a lot of love here. These challenges have made us pull together as a family to get us through and Teiva is also an ambassador for the Little Princess Trust [a charity that provides real hair wigs, free of charge, to children and young people who have lost their own hair through cancer]. You have to look for the good things – if you only look at the rubbish, you will fall apart. 

Life is fragile and you must look after the people who are with you” 

Carolyne Rogan, from County Down, Northern Ireland, is Grandmother to Michael, who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in July 2020 at 11 months old.

I was so worried for Michael. There was this feeling of helplessness – regardless of what we do, we may not be able to make this OK. I thought a lot about his mum, my daughter, Anna – it was a lot of time in a room alone for her and for her husband, Chris, and that was hard. During this time, my granddaughter Ellie started university and Chris’s mum and I stayed with Michael in hospital for that weekend when Anna went away – being in that hospital room gave us a real sense of what Anna and Chris were going through. 

I could see when Anna was low, when she spoke more quietly and there was nothing I could do. People have to go through all those emotions – fear, hope, anger. You just have to be there for them. 


We’re grateful for how Michael is doing, and we’ll never take anything for granted. This taught me that family is the most important thing. Life is fragile and you must look after the people who are with you. The important thing is that they know you are there, and just to love them. 

We will love and miss herfor ever”

Katie Evans, Somerset, is Mum of Adeline, who was diagnosed in November 2020 with a brain tumour called an ependymoma at three months old. Adeline died in 2022.

Adeline was so young, and just didn’t know any different. She always kept a smile on her face and kept everyone around her strong with her fierce attitude. 

I was hands on with her care – the nurses administered the chemotherapy but I was changing dressings and up in the night. It is completely exhausting but somehow you find the will to keep going. 

We were staying with my parents at the time and everyone helped – it was a team effort. But even when we were there, we were too scared to go out sometimes due to her needing rest, or for fear of infection. 


The scan in February 2022 showed the tumour was growing back, and had spread to other places. Her condition turned very quickly and it was traumatising. Adeline had a total of eight surgeries, with four of them being major brain surgery. She went completely blind and was paralysed down her left side. She was in so much pain that we couldn’t even do a nappy change without dosing her up with morphine first. 

Surviving each day without Adeline is a battle. It is hard to step back into the real world without her. We will love and miss her for ever. 

“The emotional strain is difficult to put into words”

Neil Ranasinghe, London, is Dad of Anne, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia aged three. Anne is now 23.

After Anne was diagnosed, it was difficult as we also had a one-year-old daughter, Eve, and the hospital was about an hour away by public transport. I had just started a new job but they were supportive and gave me time off for hospital visits. 

Whenever we took Anne to hospital, my mum and stepdad would drive 14 miles to ours to look after Eve. My sister also helped. This experience definitely brought the family closer together, although there was a lot of worry involved. 

The emotional strain is difficult to put into words. Months if not years of worry, trying to act normal, trying to bring up Anne the same as any other child wasn’t easy. 


We still wanted Anne to see friends and family, go to playgroup, have fun, learn to swim, even though she was on treatment. This wasn’t always possible, and there was a constant worry that she would get an infection or something like chickenpox that would mean she’d need a few days in hospital. 

Many families don’t have a lot of support, and I saw many carers that had to do everything alone. Having family helping us get through this period was invaluable. 

Find out more about cancers that affect children and young people, and Cancer Research UKs work in this area 

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.