‘My little girl’s life is dominated by hospital stays and treatment – she’s a warrior’

Being told your child has a rare and life-threatening cancer is a parent’s worst nightmare. And that’s exactly how it felt to Gemma Harris, 34, and her husband Rikki, 35, in 2021 when their eight-year-old daughter Freya was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a rare kidney cancer that is diagnosed in around 80 children in the UK are each year.

After Freya won this year’s Pride Of Britain Child of Courage Award, Gemma tells us, “I’ve found a strength in myself that I never imagined was there.”

Gemma lives in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, and says, “She had quite a few symptoms, like a sore belly, she was being sick quite a lot and she’d lost her appetite. She’s normally an energetic, outdoorsy child but was very lethargic. She also had a lump in her belly.”

The family was moving house at the time and doctors thought Freya’s symptoms could be stress-induced constipation.

“It took three or four A&E visits until someone decided to refer us,” says Gemma. “A scan was done and quite quickly everything changed. It went from maybe nothing serious to something very serious in a very short space of time and nothing can prepare you for that.”

In hospital Freya had a Hickman line inserted to introduce antibiotics directly into her bloodstream. She also had a kidney, and lung and kidney tumours, removed and underwent biopsies and abdominal drains.

However, she is just like any other little girl and couldn’t wait to meet Ant and Dec at the awards. She loves to play with Squishmallow toys, but is happiest spending time with her Australian Shepherd puppy, Echo.

Freya and Echo entered Crufts this year – and took second place.

“Crufts was one of the top experiences of my life, let alone her life,” Gemma says. “It was one of her dreams for at least four years, so to get there within a couple of months of training was a bit of a shock.”

Freya beamed as she walked across the green carpet alongside her furry companion. Gemma admits, “It was like our hearts were exploding out of our chest, and seeing Freya cry with happiness. Everything’s just a whirlwind of emotion for us right now.”

She adds that Freya and Echo have qualified for next year’s Crufts too, but for now, the family is enjoying a little relief between scans and treatments, and enjoying what Gemma describes as a “taste of normality”.

Freya’s tummy tubes, which she refers to as her wigglies, have been removed because of an infection. But this does mean she can enjoy going in the sea, which she’s been wanting to do for a long time.

It’s a far cry from the chemotherapy treatment that started on Christmas Eve, 2021. “Not the present you want for your little girl, but looking on the bright side of something so horrific, I guess it was the beginning of her journey to feeling better,” says Gemma.

She says Freya is very resilient and understood that the doctors were putting the bad stuff in so she would eventually feel better.

Because of Covid restrictions, Gemma couldn’t be with Freya for her initial diagnosis or during many of her treatments, but she took turns at Freya’s side with her husband Rikki.

She confesses, “I had an emotional breakdown at home alone while Freya’s dad was with her. I had lots of screams into the pillow and then had to carry on and act normal for the other children.”

Freya’s seven-year-old brother Lukas and one-year-old sister Arwen helped brighten her up when she suffered from the hospital blues.

Now, though, the family is holding on to hope after learning that lumps remain on Freya’s lungs, but scans this month will determine whether they are cancerous.

In the meantime, Freya, her mum and nanny had a special night out at this year’s Pride of Britain Awards at London’s Grosvenor House hotel.

An emotional Gemma says, “We thought the craziness of Crufts had finished – then we had a telephone call telling us about the Pride of Britain nomination.

“For other people to see how amazing she is and recognise that and want to bring awareness to her sort of situation is out of this world.

“You just don’t expect things like this for your own children,” she adds. “I’m always proud of her, but to have something like this
is the icing on the cake. It’s just one of those once- in-a-lifetime experiences. I knew if she won she’d have an internal breakdown.”

Gemma says the entire family “all had to find inner strength and support” and that holding on to normality is sometimes the only thing that keeps them going.

“Tomorrow is never guaranteed so we just try to embrace each moment,” she says.

“I want to see Freya live her life and grow old. Our daughter is a warrior and such a down-to-earth normal little child. I’m just so glad this whole horrible experience hasn’t taken that part away from her.”

Pride Of Britain Awards With TSB, Thursday 12 October, 8pm, ITV1

    Source: Read Full Article