“And though she be but little, she is fierce”

I’ve been meaning to post an update for a while now, but various other things have been keeping me busy in the evenings when I would usually find some time to write. Now that my Christmas to do list is seemingly under control, I’ve found myself a moment to recount recent weeks.

Starting with the best bit…that we were finally able to take a family holiday together in late November. It was amazing! Five days at Center Parcs in Woburn Forest, yet it felt like we were away for weeks. We packed so much in, whilst still managing to feel very relaxed at the same time. I often find that during times of celebration or holiday, I experience a momentary feeling halfway through of things being nearly over, but this time I got to the end of our stay without even feeling sad to be leaving. With Poppy feeling well, we were able to do everything we wanted whilst there and came away feeling refreshed and so incredibly grateful for the support we continue to be given.

Our break was organised and provided by a fantastic charity called 4 Cancer Group, who specialise in organising respite breaks for families affected by cancer. The fact that such a charity exists fills me with such relief in itself, knowing that I’m not the only one who feels they need a break from all of this. A break to us now feels so much more than a holiday, it’s a chance to rest and reset. A moment to pause and recognise what we’ve all been through and how we are going to move forward again.

This year, things have felt so different after a break away and some quality time spent doing things we love in each other’s company. Cancer still affects our lives every day. It’s so relentless and there’s no off switch. I can’t even begin to describe how often thoughts to do with cancer cross my mind every day – it remains all consuming and affects everything we do. Even when I booked the activities for Center Parcs, I knew there was a chance Poppy wouldn’t be well enough to take part in some or all of them, but without hope, there’s no opportunity either. And as it turned out, that hope was not misplaced and she astounded us by how much energy she maintained throughout the week.

Chosen activities for our craft-loving girls included cupcake decorating, wreath making and a teddy bears picnic. Those who have followed this blog from the start will also know how much it meant to see Poppy back in a tutu joining in a mini ballerina class, and after Daisy fell in love with the unicorn at the charity fair, we couldn’t resist booking them a festive pony ride too. Uncertain as to whether they would both react positively to the prospect of this new experience, we arrived early to allow them time to warm up to the idea. It is after all one thing to admire an idea from afar and quite another to be thrust in to the spotlight yourself, so I was well aware that this activity was the most risky in terms of whether they would want to have a go or not. Our arrival was well-timed as some other children were just returning from their own pony ride, and it was the perfect opportunity to suggest that Poppy and Daisy might like to have a turn too. They both immediately squealed with excitement and so followed a 30 minute wait with two very enthusiastic and incredibly patient girls! An experience to remember, not least because Daisy has punctuated almost every day since with talk of the hat she wore whilst riding, amidst much animated nodding and clip clop noises.

The morning of our first day of holiday began as most weeks do with a visit from our community nurse, who completed Poppy’s weekly blood test. Then followed an anxious wait of several hours before we had the results back and knew whether Poppy would be allowed to go swimming or not. If neutropenic, and at high risk of infection, the swimming pool would sadly be out of bounds. I had tried to prepare myself for this scenario by rationalising that there would be many other activities we could occupy ourselves with, but the flood of tears which leaked out when the message came back declaring that Poppy could swim suggested otherwise! I let out a long, deep breath and remember that as the moment our holiday really started.

Both girls adored the swimming pool, and we managed 4 visits across our 5 days. We only paused mid-week as the steady stream of activities that day meant little time to squeeze it in! Poppy amazed me in the pool most of all, showing fierce determination in repeatedly climbing the steps to the water slide and confidently throwing herself down it for the duration of our time in the pool. Non-stop for two hours at a time, she must have braved the slide and the effort it took to get there hundreds of times across the week. By the end of our last session on our last day, Poppy was almost on her knees, using her hands to help her crawl to the top, as other children her age and younger whizzed past and overtook her. It’s these moments which cause my breath to catch in my throat and my heart to leap with pride at how much Poppy has accomplished to be amongst her peers. She may be slower than them, but she is so focused on her own determination to succeed that (for now) that fact is unimportant to her. Moments like these also make me appreciate how far she has has come in such a short time. It’s unbelievable to think that just 6 months ago, Poppy was relearning to walk again after several months off her feet.

My parents joined us on our break, and our first evening began with a Mexican feast and a chance meeting with the hotel concierge. Introductions were made and some pleasantries were exchanged about the reason for our break and the charity behind it. Before leaving, our new acquaintance mentioned that he would be working in the bike rental shed the following day, and we should ask for him by name if we stopped by. We did just that and after setting us up with a bike each and a trailer for the girls, he declared them complimentary and bending down to tell Poppy how incredibly brave she is, he wished us all a wonderful holiday. Another day, another incredible act of kindness which we’ll never forget.

Since March, we have met several people who for whatever reason just get what we are going through as a family. Whether through their own life experience or the sheer unimaginable horror of childhood cancer, they understand what we are facing without the need for much explanation at all. They know that this affects Poppy but also know that it continues to send huge shock waves throughout her wider family and friends too. They recognise the relentlessness and the loss of control over your own lives, and want to do anything they can to help. We will never forget these kind and generous gestures and will strive to pay them forward to other families in the future.

This holiday meant so much to all of us. It was amazing to see Poppy so well and so determined to join in activities with all of the other children there. It was a delight to see Daisy revel in the wide open spaces and have the chance to explore them. To feel like we belonged as much as any other family there. To introduce new experiences and regain some old ones. To remind ourselves of the important things – often not the big things, but the small things which bring us joy. We had several lovely meals out during our stay, but I think I speak for all of us when I say our favourite meal of all was the sausages cooked on the BBQ and eaten in buns indoors on a picnic blanket for our lunch. Followed by strawberries and toasted marshmallows no less! Such a lovely experience of sharing simple food with loved ones, it is making me smile now as I think about the smiles on all of our faces at the time.

I don’t recall taking a holiday at this time of year before – we tend to take some time further on in December as part of our Christmas celebrations or in January when all is calm again. The timing was perfect for us this year. We arrived home on the last day of November, with the shared advent calendar of books for the girls already wrapped and ready to go the next morning. Our renewed energy levels and brightened spirits were the perfect start to the busy festive season, with an active month in store even for a family who don’t tend to make many plans in advance!

I hope to round off with one more post before the big day, but just in case…Merry Christmas all. May your days be merry and bright! x

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