Spending Christmas at home is something a lot of us take for granted but one family who will value spending the festive season together at home more than ever is that of Ilkeston toddler Abbey Fenton.
It has been a trying year for the three-year-old. Here is her story:
Struggling through her first session of chemotherapy, Abbey Fenton could not even turn to her mum, Julie Stayner, for reassurance – because she had temporarily lost her sight.
The youngster could not walk, stand up or speak properly. “They told me there was the option of chemotherapy but there was only a small chance it would help her,” said the mum-of-two, of Ilkeston.
“The doctors didn’t think she’d make it past two weeks and they had already told me to prepare for the worst, so that’s why I decided to go through with the chemotherapy.
“Your life has already been destroyed when you’re told your daughter has a brain tumour but it somehow destroys you even more when they use the word cancer.”
Abbey was 22 months old when the symptoms of her condition first appeared.
Julie, 33, said her daughter became suddenly tired, her vision was not quite right, she lost her appetite and she started feeling sick.
The pair were in and out of their GP surgery for weeks before Abbey ended up in the accident and emergency department at the Royal Derby Hospital in September 2012.
It was after a scan that Julie was informed her daughter had a brain tumour and needed treatment immediately at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham.
Julie said: “When they tell you it’s a brain tumour, you instantly think ‘yes, I’ve heard of them’ but then you quickly realise you haven’t got a clue what it means.
“But you don’t worry about anything except saving your daughter’s life. Anything after that just doesn’t come into it.”
Within two weeks, Abbey needed emergency surgery to stop pressure building up in her brain. Surgeons attached shunts on the outside of her head to pump fluid out of her brain.
It was then that Julie – who has another daughter, Taya, eight – was asked whether her daughter should be put on chemotherapy treatment.
She said: “Abbey immediately lost her hair and she would just lie on the bed going through it. She was just like a body breathing on a bed.
“The only thing which seemed to be working properly were her lungs. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t stand and she couldn’t walk.
“She was on the chemotherapy for a month but it was two months after before she showed any sign of change from this state.
“I remember bringing her home for some respite and I noticed she was following me around the room with her eyes. I asked her something and she said ‘Mama’. It was amazing and I was so relieved.”
Abbey spent 14 weeks in hospital after her initial diagnosis and, since then, she has been back to Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, for 12 sessions of chemotherapy.
Between September 2012 and September 2013, Julie said they had spent only eight separate weeks at home.
Doctors have since confirmed Abbey has five brain tumours, cancer cells in her brain and a tumour on her spine.
Two months ago, Abbey had further surgery on her brain to remove part of the original tumour – a procedure Julie was told would prolong her daughter’s life by a year. It was explained that, if her daughter did not have the operation, she would only have a couple of months to live.
The procedure has also left Abbey vulnerable to rapid changes in her temperature and, while doctors attempt to rectify this, she has been taken off the chemotherapy.
Julie said: “We’ll go back to the hospital in January for a decision on whether or not she’ll be put back on the chemotherapy.
“But, in the meantime, it’ll be nice that she doesn’t have to go through it during Christmas and she can spend it at home.
“When she’s on the chemotherapy, she does feel sick and tired but, off it, she’s an extremely bubbly little character and always has a smile on her face.”
Each time Abbey has gone to the Queen’s Medical Centre for treatment, she has been distracted from her plight and entertained by the hospital’s therapeutic play programme and its series of educational activities.
The craft, music and playtime activities are organised by Nottingham Hospitals Charity, which runs the Lewis Mighty Fund.
Julie said: “When Abbey’s been at the hospital before, they’ve sometimes had groups of people come in to entertain them and, if they are too ill to get out of bed, come and stand by their bedsides.
“Abbey loves getting involved with the music and just to see everyone from babies to teenagers getting involved in these activities is so nice – the atmosphere changes so much.
“Abbey loves it and it brightens up her day when she has to have chemotherapy. It puts a massive smile on her face and gives her a sense of normality.
“It’s just so much better than staring at four walls with nothing to think about but the poison being pumped into your body.”
Julie said: “We don’t know what the future holds – we just take it day by day and, if it’s a bad day, hour by hour.
“It shows you just how precious life is and Abbey’s life is so precious to me.”
The Lewis Mighty fund was set up in memory of the tragic Mackworth youngster to raise money for children suffering from cancer. It has now set itself a £10,000 target this Christmas to help children undergoing hospital treatment. To donate visit www.lewismightyfund.org.