A Southwater girl whose cancer was missed 11 times before she was diagnosed has had her courage recognised with a special award from Cancer Research UK.
Ellie Mae Wile-Dunne, five, who is also just learning to walk again after treatment damaged her bones, has received a Little Star award for her bravery.
“Despite all she has been through, Ellie still smiles and giggles,” explained Ellie Mae’s mum Nikki, “she really is a little star.”
Ellie Mae first became ill last summer shortly before her fourth birthday. Despite numerous trips to the GP and hospital, it wasn’t until the family visited an auntie in Plymouth, who had been a senior theatre nurse, recognised her symptoms, was admitted to hospital for a blood test and told she had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
“Nothing can prepare you for that moment. Shock, dread, fear, anguish, desperation were some of the words that hit us and lived with us over the next months,” explained Ellie Mae’s dad, Jim.
“We felt like we were being driven in a car we had no control over. Things were explained to us but we found it so hard to take in among the tears and anxiety.
“We went through hopeless bouts of self-doubt, questioning ‘Why our daughter?’”
Ellie Mae was transferred to Bristol Children’s Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton. But the chemotherapy drugs which were saving Ellie Mae’s life, were also suppressing her immune system. She withdrew into herself, unable to understand why everyone was ‘hurting’ her. Her speech dropped away and the steroids caused mood swings and tantrums.
Within 48 hours of coming home after 33 days in hospital, her condition deteriorated rapidly and she was rushed back to the Royal Marsden where was diagnosed with E.coli, pneumonia and low potassium levels.
“Over the next three weeks, Ellie Mae drifted in and out of consciousness,” added Jim. “She lost any appetite she had and withdrew further into herself. She appeared to be losing the fight.”
But after three weeks, Ellie Mae was allowed home with a feed pump and spent another 57 days in isolation. With support from family, friends and The Rainbow Trust, the family started to try to live normally again.
She was able to start school at Southwater Infant Academy in May using a wheelchair and frame. Although three days into the summer holidays she broke her left leg due to a calcium deficiency, last month she was strong enough to take her first steps unaided.
Jim said: “Some people might say we were unfortunate in what has happened to our daughter and what we have gone through. I believe we were lucky. The prognosis could have been worse and the fallout more severe.
“We still have another year of treatment ahead of us and nobody knows what that year holds for us. But we owe Ellie Mae’s survival to the incredible advances that have been made in children’s cancer research. And we are thankful for them. Hopefully the next year will work out find and Ellie Mae will complete her treatment as planned and lead a healthy life.”
Each child nominated for a Little Star award, which is in partnership with TK Maxx, receives the accolade and are open to all under-18s who have cancer or who have been treated for the disease in the last five years.
To nominate a Little Star visit www.cruk.org/littlestar