Christmas restrictions for children on cancer wards due to impact of Covid

Children in cancer wards will continue to feel the effects of Covid-19 despite the holiday season.

Since the start of the pandemic, patient safety restrictions have prevented children undergoing cancer treatment from having only one visitor.

This was the case for 12-year-old Jess Oliver who was diagnosed with cancer in June 2020 at the height of the UK’s first wave.

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Her mother, Catherine, told LeicestershireLive: “She was perfectly healthy before, but she came down one night and said she had a lump on her neck.”

The following weeks flew by as Jess’s parents took her to several appointments, and shortly after, she was diagnosed with cancer when doctors found a tumor in her breast.

Jess, who was 11 years old at the time, began intensive chemotherapy and as Christmas approaches, her family faced the harsh reality that they would be spending Christmas apart.

“She was on very intensive chemotherapy at the time and lost about 12 kg very quickly because she kept getting sick,” said the 50-year-old.

The schoolgirl had to be hospitalized on December 20 last year and stayed the entire holiday season until New Year’s Day.

What was already an extremely difficult time for the family was made even more difficult by Covid-19 restrictions that are still in place a year later.

“One of the hardest things was not being able to spend Christmas with my partner and son, who was 13 at the time, because they couldn’t visit us in the ward,” said Catherine.

Jess pictured with her father, Tim Oliver, 49, brother, Chris, 14, and mother, Catherine Fowler. (Image: PASIC)

But community workers and local charities like PASIC were able to bring some joy to Jess and others like her.

The charity provides emotional, financial and social support to families of children and young people with cancer in the East Midlands and provides children with gifts, special days out and more over the Christmas period.

“They make you feel so special, even if it’s not like waking up in your own bed on Christmas morning,” she said.

“Sometimes they see you and smile and sometimes that’s all you need — they don’t just support the patients, they support the families.”

This year Catherine, her partner Tim and Jess’ 14-year-old brother Chris are looking forward to spending Christmas at home together.

But as the number of Covid-19 cases rise again, many childhood cancer patients like Jess will once again face Christmas without their families.

The risk of the pandemic also means PASIC has had to cancel its patient Christmas party for the second time this year.

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PASIC chief executive Louise Towse said: “For a family with a child who has been diagnosed with cancer, they have probably long forgotten what a normal Christmas really is.

“The sad truth is that some children will spend this Christmas in the hospital and for some this may be their last Christmas together as they lose their battle with childhood cancer.”

She added: “Unfortunately this year we also helped some families celebrate Christmas early after receiving the devastating news that their child will not make it to Christmas. This is the terrible reality of childhood cancer.”

“While even the magic of Christmas can’t help with the greatest of our wishes — a cure for childhood cancer — donations can help make some of our other Christmas wishes come true, providing magical memories for families going through the hardest of times.”

The charity hopes to raise £2,000 to create much-needed special memories for childhood cancer patients.

Donations between £20 and £50 can be spent on gifts and days out all year round.

You can donate to the PASIC Christmas appeal here.

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