All is calm, all is bright

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Far from taking festive joy for granted, three families tell GH how they’ve finally got the Christmas they hardly dared hope for

Lindsay and Andy with their children (from left), Emmie, George and Molly
LINDSAY’S HAIR AND MAKEUP: LIZ KITCHINER. STYLING: RACHEL FANCONI. PYJAMAS, MINI LUNN AT LUNN ANTIQUES. TREE, BALSAM HILL. DECORATIONS, THE WHITE COMPANY. WRAPPING PAPER AND RIBBON, NANCY & BETTY

‘We thought it was our only Christmas together’

As their tiny daughter Emmie battled a rare cancer, the McPartland family from Eltham, south London, spent Christmas in Great Ormond Street Hospital. Mum Lindsay, 38, a primary school teacher, will always treasure how the GOSH team gave them a special gift – time together.

Nothing prepares you for watching your baby daughter’s body being pumped full of chemotherapy, but that’s how Emmie spent her first Christmas. Cancer doesn’t take a festive holiday, so neither could her treatment.

Our nightmare had started almost four months earlier when, on 1 September 2019, I noticed blood in 14-week-old Emmie’s nappy. Within hours of taking her to our local A&E, my husband, Andy, 37, and I were told she had cancer and she was transferred by ambulance to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

She was diagnosed with a malignant rhabdoid tumour, which had started in her kidney and spread to her lungs and liver, pushing her little heart sideways. This type of rare childhood cancer grows very quickly and has terrible survival rates. Andy, a deputy head teacher, and I were told she had an 8-10% chance of pulling through.

We were given the option to either take her home to her brother George, who was two, and enjoy the time we had left together, or go ahead with treatment the next day. We decided that we had to give her the chance, so she began chemotherapy on 11 September – her dad’s birthday.

Over the next few months, she had six rounds of chemotherapy, along with surgery to remove the original tumour and the kidney where it had been growing. She responded well, but then Andy and I were told she’d have to be in hospital for a five-day course of chemotherapy over her first – and possibly her only – Christmas. We were absolutely devastated.

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After struggling to get pregnant and suffering four miscarriages before George and Emmie were both born following fertility treatment, I’d dreamed of having Christmas as a family. But now we’d be spending it in hospital.

We hadn’t bargained on the amazing team at GOSH, though. From the moment we arrived in Elephant Ward, George was bombarded with presents. Emmie was too little to know what was going on, but her brother had the time of his life, with visits from Father Christmas and Peter Rabbit, and he happily played with a toy garage he’d been given in the corridor.