My brave girl’s battle with leukaemia

Jessica Holmes, two, before she lost her hair to chemotherapy
Jessica Holmes, two, before she lost her hair to chemotherapy

Four months ago, Jessica Holmes was a happy and healthy toddler.

Then she began suffering from what appeared, at first, to be a cold.

When two-year-old Jessica didn’t recover and was sleeping all day, her parents Mandy and Bob became worried.

They took her to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary but at first, doctors didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong.

“They sent her home and said it was just a bit of a chest infection and gave her antibiotics,” said Mandy.

“When she didn’t get any better we took her to see our GP in Garstang, who took one look at her and sent her back to hospital.

“They did blood tests this time and the next minute, she needed a blood transfusion and was being rushed to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

“At this point, we had no idea what was wrong. At worst, I thought it would be asthma or diabetes.

“They put us on a ward where there were all these children had no hair and I thought it was just while they were waiting to put us on a different ward.

“Then a Macmillan nurse came and introduced herself to us but I could not understand why we needed a Macmillan nurse.

“Then the consultant came to speak to us and told us. We went into complete shock.”

Jessica had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

“When the specialist mentioned the word ‘leukaemia’, my first terrified thought was that Jessica was going to die.

“When I was at school, a girl I knew got leukaemia and she died and I instantly thought of that and it frightened me.

“But luckily, medical advances have been made since then and we have to take each day at a time and hope that Jessica’s leukaemia will be cured.

“The doctors don’t tell you very much and I spend a lot of time on the internet, googling everything, looking at Macmillan and NHS websites. I get shouted at by my husband because they make me cry.

“You never expect something like this to suddenly happen to your child and when it does, it knocks you sideways.”

Little Jessica began undergoing chemotherapy and lost her beautiful curly hair. She has also had steroid treatment as well as five blood transfusions.

Dad Bob, an HGV driver, said: “Jessica is my first child and when she was born, I was ecstatic as she is all I ever wanted.

“When we found out she had leukaemia, I went to pieces. But everybody has got behind us and without the support we have had, we would have cracked long ago.”

With Christmas coming up, the family have had little time to think about the festive season amidst the constant trips back and forth to hospital.

But mum of five Mandy says they intend to make a fuss of Jessica, as long as she doesn’t have to go in again on Christmas Day.

In recent weeks the tot has developed brittle bone disease, a side effect of chemotherapy, and been diagnosed with a compressed fractured spine.

“She couldn’t walk and had to have an MRI, and they’ve had to stop her chemo,” said Mandy.

“But touch wood hopefully she’s going to be home.

“Every day we take her temperature. If it’s over 38 degrees we just drop everything and take her to hospital. She could have an infection in her Hickman line. You’ve got to be so careful.”

Mandy now wants to let as many parents as possible know about Jessica’s story.

“I just want to raise awareness.

“Everybody knows when your child gets a cold and you go to the doctors and you keep getting told ‘oh, it’s a virus’ and they give you antibiotics.

“Don’t get fobbed off. If you think your child is seriously ill you’ve got to keep pestering. If I didn’t have my background in care I don’t know what might have happened.”

The family now live in Catterall near Garstang but have strong connections to Morecambe.

Mandy lived in Morecambe for 12 years and worked for Bare Hall carers.

She has since set up her own business Mandy’s Home Help but had to put work aside to look after Jessica full-time.

“My customers have been brilliant and have all said they will wait for me,” she said.

“They have all kept in touch.”

The family is also raising money for the Jessica Holmes Family Fund, having so far raised around £650.

Mandy said: “There are lots of extra costs when your child has cancer but people in the community have been so kind.

“The Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Garstang have been fundraising and lots of other people have been so generous by giving us food and money to help us through a difficult time.”

Mandy is also planning to do a sponsored bike ride in the New Year to raise money for Ronald McDonald House, where the family stayed for a month after Jessica’s diagnosis.

Donations can be made through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/534263209993430/