Saturday, December 14, 2019

Molly

Ann Grady’s heart was ripped to pieces when her beautiful little girl lost her life to cancer on Christmas Day.

Molly-Ann, three, had opened her presents – and a doll called Annabel was her favourite.

Hours later, with her family by her bedside, she took her last breath.

Nothing could make up for Ann’s loss, but she never forgot the support of kids’ cancer charity CLIC Sargent during her darkest hour.

And little more than a year after Molly-Ann died, Ann realised that by helping the charity herself, she could pay tribute to her girl – and ease the never-ending pain.

Ann became a volunteer and now, 14 years on, dedicates every Christmas to helping other children with cancer.


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Ann, 55, said: “Molly-Ann would be so proud to see me now, giving other families the love and support we had.

“It’s a privilege and means I can celebrate Christmas again, something I never thought I’d ever be able to do.”

Today, Ann is urging Sunday Mirror readers to dig deep to keep Christmas magical for families experiencing their own cancer journey.

We launched our Home from Home Christmas appeal last month.

Donations will go to help fund accommodation provided by CLIC Sargent near specialist cancer wards, so that families with sick children in hospital can be closer to them.

Ann knows just how important these homes are – she manages two near her home in the Bristol area. She told us: “Even the smallest contribution makes such a massive difference. Without the support of the public I couldn’t have coped and I wouldn’t be here now, helping others.

“These families need your help to have an amazing Christmas against all the odds.”

How you can donate

You can stop cancer cancelling this Christmas for young patients and their families.

Text: GIVE 5 to 70025 to donate £5

GIVE 10 to 70025 to donate £10

GIVE 20 to 70025 to donate £20

Post: Make cheques payable to “CLIC Sargent” and send with your name and address to: Sunday Mirror Christmas Appeal, CLIC Sargent, 126 Fairlie Road, Slough, SL1 4PY (Please put a stamp on the envelope)

Online: clicsargent.org.uk/xmas

T&Cs: Texts cost either £5, £10 or £20 plus one standard network rate message. CLIC Sargent will receive 100% of your donation. To opt out of calls, text NOCALL CLIC to 78866. To opt out of SMS, text NOSMS CLIC to 7

Morrisons has thrown its weight behind the appeal, with The Morrisons Foundation announcing they will match reader donations pound for pound up to a total of £25,000.

It was in 2004 that little Molly-Ann, then two, started complaining of hip pain. Ann took her to the GP nine times, but was told it was probably growing pains. The tot was tall for her age and dad John was 6ft 6in.

But after one terribly painful night Ann took Molly-Ann to A&E and scans confirmed her worst fear. She said: “Our little girl had stage four neuroblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of the disease.”

The primary tumour was attached to her pituitary gland, but the cancer had spread to her bones, explaining Molly-Ann’s pain. She was admitted to Bristol Children’s Hospital, starting a 14-month fight for survival.

She had 70 days of chemotherapy, surgery, a stem cell transfusion and radiotherapy. By October 2005 Ann and John got the news they prayed for – Molly-Ann was cancer-free.


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But weeks after going home she had shoulder pain – and scans showed the cancer was back, but much worse.

Ann, whose other children Anthony, 33, and Claire, 34, were then in their teens, said: “It was decided no more could be done for her. We could only keep her comfortable and minimise her pain before we said goodbye. Our hearts were ripped to pieces.”

The family converted a dining room into a bedroom for Molly-Ann. They then met their “guardian angel” – a CLIC Sargent support nurse named Sally – for the first time.

Ann said: “Molly-Ann needed lots of morphine and chemo and Sally guided us through every step.

shoulder

“Sally didn’t just care for Molly-Ann, she cared for all of us, talking to Anthony and Claire about what was happening in a way we simply couldn’t, being a shoulder for us to cry on when we needed it.”

Brave Molly-Ann clung on until Christmas Day. Her eyes lit up when she opened her gifts, including the doll. At just after 1pm, stroking her doll, she took her last breath with her family crowded around the bed.

Ann was devastated. “I seriously never thought I could ever celebrate Christmas again,” she said.

“We decided to rename Christmas Day as Molly-Ann Day, and the following December we planted a tree in our garden with a star on top in honour of our beautiful little girl.

“Two nursery friends – Gemma and Alfie – came to put their decorations on the tree, which meant so much to us. Having grieved for over a year, on what would have been Molly-Ann’s fifth birthday I blew out the candles on her cake, said a prayer and picked up the phone to Sally. I had to do this for Molly-Ann and also for me, to move on and find something positive.”

Ann threw every ounce of energy and compassion into volunteering for CLIC Sargent. In 2017 she was made local Homes from Home manager, caring for up to 31 families.

Gemma and Alfie have visited Ann every Christmas, bringing tree decorations bearing Molly-Ann’s name or photo.

The heartwarming routine – and Ann’s work with CLIC Sargent – lifts her at the most difficult time of year.

She added: “I honestly don’t know how I could cope at Christmas not doing what I do – the memory of holding Molly-Ann’s hand as she passed away on Christmas Day 2005 is still so clear.

“Wrapping presents for the families here over Christmas, organising our massive party, just being here to listen and support these families, it somehow makes sense of Molly-Ann’s death.”

The two Homes from Home in Bristol currently have 29 families and many will be there at Christmas. Ann said: “They’ll cook dinner, unwrap the presents we’ve left under the trees and have as normal a Christmas as possible.

"When you’re dealing with cancer, I know how important those times are and how proud Molly-Ann would be. I do it for her.

“I think I now truly know the real spirit of Christmas, kindness and compassion, in a way I never would have. This week we’ve had our big Christmas party, with a Santa’s Grotto, games, presents and lots of laughter.

“To see the smiles on those kids’ and parents’ faces when they’re dealing with the most awful situation gives my life and Molly-Ann’s death a meaning I only now understand.”

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