It’s the smell of the Christmas tree as you decorate it with lights. Santa’s mince pie warming in front of the fire. Waking up at 6am, excited faces peeking round the door. Tucking into an amazing Christmas dinner and falling asleep in front of the TV.
My family didn’t realise how special these moments were, until our lives were turned upside down.
We really can’t remember what our Christmas traditions were – it’s a long time since we had any sort of normal Christmas. My beautiful healthy daughter Jenna was just three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer.
Jenna began treatment right away, and our lives were based in hospital for a solid month. All my wife Claire and I could do was watch our little girl undergo the most gruelling treatment you can imagine. The treatment made Jenna sick and her hair fell out – it was sad to see my daughter’s lovely brown curly hair become fragile and brittle.
People often ask how I felt when we found out Jenna had cancer – I tell them my whole world fell apart. It was like a tunnel. You start at one end, not seeing the other end but you blindly walk on, one foot in front of the other, knowing that your daughter’s life hangs on the edge, and your influence counts for nothing.
At one point, Jenna’s health took a turn for the worse. She was admitted to hospital with a high temperature, peaking at over 40 degrees, and became paralysed from her neck down for two days. Those days were the worst in my life and are still difficult for me to write down. My wonderful child couldn’t move, swallow or speak. She managed to squeeze my hand for a momentto say she was frightened. We spent that Christmas watching the thermometer, praying that her condition didn’t get any worse.
This year we’re looking forward to celebrating Christmas together as a family, free for the first time in years from leukaemia and the medicines used to treat it. But I’m really aware that some families are still in that tunnel.
Jenna’s grandma is a retired nurse – so our family knew that if Jenna had leukaemia 50 years ago, doctors wouldn’t have been able to do much to save her. Now 9 in 10 children survive it, and that’s thanks to the life-saving work Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have been doing. We can’t thank them enough for their work – without research like this, our daughter might not be
It’s great that more children are surviving ALL, but I’d rather they didn’t get it at all.
I’m often asked what I’d like as a Christmas present. The answer is always the same: nothing. I already have the perfect gift – the wellbeing of my child, thanks to the work done by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
Jonathan Bradley, Jenna’s dad