12:00 AM 12th February 2024
Reunited: My Son’s Cancer Nurse Also Treated My Sister, As A Child
Family pic when Bethan was ill. (Photo credit: Lewis-Mack family.)
(Top) Becca (elder sister) and Georgia, (bottom) Callum and Bethan.
In 2005, when Georgia Lewis was eight years old, her sister Bethan, aged three, was diagnosed with leukaemia. After an almost three-year battle with the disease, she is now a healthy 22-year-old.
But when Georgia’s six-year-old son, Albie, was diagnosed with a Wilms tumour in July 2023, Georgia met the same nurse, Sally, who treated her sister at Leeds General Infirmary, to begin Albie’s cancer treatment.
The Lewis-Mack family, from York, tell their story as part of International Childhood Cancer Day Thursday February 15 2024, to chart their childhood cancer experience, and recognise the valuable support provided by Leeds-based children's cancer charity Candlelighters.
Albie Lewis-Mack during treatment. (Photo credit: Lewis-Mack family)
The York-based family consists of mum Georgia, dad Chris, son Albie, and daughter Iris, who had only been born six months prior to her brother’s cancer diagnosis.
Georgia says “Chris took Albie to A&E after finding blood in his urine. They were there all day while I waited at home with Iris. I received a phone call from Chris to say the doctors had asked me to go to the hospital so they could tell us the results of Albie's ultrasound.
The shocking cancer diagnosis was hard to deal with, emotionally. We cried a lot, mainly on our own, or together when the children were asleep. It was so difficult having to act 'strong' when inside we were heartbroken for our little boy.
Practically, it was difficult to cope, juggling the demands of a small baby with hospital visits. Georgia was breastfeeding at the time and says that she felt like she was torn in two.
Financially, it was also tough. Husband Chris couldn't work as Georgia didn't drive, so he had to drive them to and from hospital. And as she was breastfeeding, she couldn’t stay overnight in the hospital which was also difficult, emotionally.
Albie Lewis-Mack with dad Chris, mum Georgia and sister Iris. (Photo credit: Lewis-Mack family.)
“On top of all this, paying for travel costs like petrol and parking made things hugely difficult for us. Without the support of children’s cancer charity Candlelighters during those few months, I'm not sure what we would have done!
“I met them again with Albie when we came to the Oncology Day Unit to find out his official diagnosis. One of the team made us a cup of tea and spoke to us whilst we nervously waited. It was lovely to speak to somebody who wasn't a doctor or medical professional as it had been a busy 24 hours with Albie being prodded and poked.”
In a curious twist of fate, Georgia was re-introduced to Sally, the nurse who had treated her sister Bethan 19 years earlier. “It was uncanny that our paths would cross again, but I also found it very reassuring, knowing that Albie was receiving excellent care.
“When Albie was admitted to hospital, the consultant came to see us for a chat, so Elaine, one of the Candlelighters team, came to sit with Albie while we went to a private room. After a very intense conversation with the consultant, it was so lovely to come back to Elaine and Albie having a pillow fight. He still laughs about that now!”
Albie Lewis-Mack with sister Iris. (Photo credit: Lewis-Mack family.)
Albie’s treatment was also a re-introduction to Candlelighters. She first met the team from the charity when she was a young girl, visiting her sister in hospital. Now, Georgia and her family began to access various Candlelighters support services to relieve the stress of a childhood cancer diagnosis.
Candlelighters aim to help families of children with cancer emotionally, practically, and financially, during their journey and beyond. Bringing light and hope to a family going through their darkest times is at the core of Candlelighters’ values.
In September 2023, Albie was in hospital for surgery to have his kidney and tumour removed. His family live an hour away from the hospital and they wanted to be as close to Albie as possible.
“We phoned Candlelighters and they offered us accommodation in The Cottage, which is their home away from home, just a few minutes’ walk from Leeds General Infirmary. It was so lovely to have a warm and inviting room to go back to after a long day in the hospital.
“Since being diagnosed, Albie has struggled a lot with anxiety but thanks to Candlelighters, talking therapist Sarah is able to offer 1:1 therapy for Albie to help him with this. We are so thankful that he can get the help he desperately needs, that we wouldn't be able to afford without Candlelighters' support.
“The support from Candlelighters has been a godsend. It has lifted us in the hardest of times and it's given us a friend to speak to when we needed this. It allowed us to be near our child during a huge surgery, and meant that I no longer felt torn between my two children as I could be there for both of them when staying in The Cottage.”
This International Childhood Cancer Day, Thursday February 15 2024, Candlelighters is raising awareness of childhood cancer and encouraging the public to consider donating towards, or fundraising for, families struggling with a childhood cancer diagnosis.
CEO of Candlelighters, Emily Wragg, says:
Emily Wragg, CEO, Candlelighters. (Photo credit: Candlelighters.)
“International Childhood Cancer Day is an important time to gather and show our support for the children and their families affected by cancer. Around 150 families across Yorkshire receive the terrible news every year that their child has cancer.
"We are continually humbled working with so many brave children, parents, and grandparents. We are also so thankful that the people of Yorkshire and across the UK donate and fundraise to ensure these children and their families receive the support they need to get through such difficult times.”
Learn more about what Candlelighters do, and how you can make a difference for children this International Childhood Cancer Day: https://www.candlelighters.org.uk/howyoucanhelp/