I’ll never forget the moment I found out my good friend’s four-year-old son had passed away: the world stopped for a moment, my heart sunk and I froze.
How could this actually be possible?
It’s the kind of thing you see happening to other people and, though your heart breaks for them, you just never imagine it will happen to you, or someone you know and love.
Claire had posted on Facebook that they’d taken Jakey into hospital, but never did I imagine things could become so desperate, so quickly.
Jake was diagnosed with an aggressive form of neuroblastoma and within two weeks of his first visit to the GP, Claire said goodbye to him as he slipped away in her arms.
I just… my heart breaks for her and no words will ever do justice to the amount of pain I know she was feeling.
The thought of being told your child has cancer is just beyond my imagination, even more so now I have my beautiful son Harry in my life.
No parent should ever have to say good bye to their child. Yet so many do because of this awful disease, that’s why Child Cancer Awareness month exists – to make sure none of them have to go through it alone.
It’s really important to remember that childhood cancer is rare and that there’s a lot of information out there to support anyone going through it. This page on the Cancer Research UK site explains more, including that some of the common symptoms are:
- not able to wee, or blood in wee
- an unexplained lump or firmness anywhere in the body
- swollen glands
- back pain that doesn’t go away
- persistent headaches
- frequent bruising
- feeling tired all the time
- unexplained fits (seizures) or changes in vision or behaviour
- abdominal (tummy) pain or swelling all the time
- unexplained vomiting (being sick)
- unexplained sweating or fever (high temperatures)
- unexplained weight loss or poor appetite
- changes in appearance of the eye or unusual eye reflections in photos
- frequent infections or flu-like symptoms
- The symptoms are, as I’m sure you’ll recognise, common in other illnesses too – but Cancer Research says if they haven’t gone away in a few weeks, you should take your little one to your GP.
For a long time, what happened to Jake really knocked me for six. I’d spend night, after night listening to Claire’s song for Jake. The words are beautiful and incredibly poignant as they are about the Taylor Swift’s godson who also passed away at the age of four.
Every year on the anniversary of Jake’s passing, I’ve bought a balloon and sent it up to him in heaven – just like we did at the funeral. And every year when his birthday comes around, I buy a slice of cake and enjoy it in his memory.
I think I just really feel the pain that she went through, or at least I try to. The fact such a good friend was going through this made me feel awful and I wanted to try and do something to help.
The first time I was due to meet her after he’d passed away I actually Googled some advice on how I could support her, what I should talk to her about. I’ve since found this fantastic piece from Mama Mia which covers that perfectly.
So, what did I do? Claire and I have always been incredibly open with each other, that’s one of the reasons we have become so close. I was determined to make sure that didn’t change.
When we meet I try to let her lead the conversation, I want her to be able to talk about Jake if that is what she wants on that day. And we always talk about him in the present tense, I never say ‘was’.
I think Claire finds comfort in feeling that Jake is with her every day and I want to be a part of that with her. He is her third beautiful son, he is little brother to her two eldest boys and now older brother to his stunning little sister.
In the months after he passed I tried to message her regularly, not to ask how she is (the answer to that was surely too hard to express), to give her a chance to talk if she needed and to let her know I was there
Sometimes we talk about absolute rubbish too… my break up with my ex, the lad I quite fancied at the time, her new partner. I hope I helped her to feel some semblance of normality while she was going through something so unimaginable.
I wrote a note to Jake on the day of his funeral, it promised him that I would do everything I can to help look after her. I hope I am keeping to that promise.
She’s been incredibly brave, you see. She doesn’t think it, but she has been so, so strong. Every day that has passed she has had him on her mind and yet she’s continued being an amazing Mum to all her children (and step children too).
For some time afterwards, she was really honest on social media about how she was feeling, I was so proud of her for opening up and letting people see the real her.
Sadly, as time has gone on, not all of the responses to this have been positive and I’m gutted that has meant she has closed off a little.
For me, it’s so important for people to be able to share their feelings on hard topics like this. Not just because ‘the rest of us’ can learn more about the situation and take value from it in the future – but, as Mama Mia speaks about, because it helps those who are suffering.
It still astounds me that anyone can be anything but supportive of someone who has been through so much, particularly when they are mothers themselves.
But the most wonderful thing of all is that she and her beautiful youngest son have become an inspiration to so many of us.
Her family have set up a Facebook page which Jake’s Grandma posts on regularly with memories of Jake and updates on what the people he was close to are doing now. I love to see his cheeky face pop up on my timeline!
Friends and family have rallied to raise money for the causes that matter to Claire, including Sheffield Hospital who took care of Jake during his illness.
And recently a friend of Claire’s created an exclusive range of bows in memory of Jake, the money raised from them will be donated to charity. She’s made me one into a brooch so I can wear it proudly for him.
It just amazes me, the way so many people have pulled together to support Claire and to remember Jake. It’s testament to what an incredible woman she is and what a mark he has left on all of us.
I think that’s why I wanted to write this really, to tell her how bloody wonderful she is. She is got through (and still goes through, every day) the hardest thing anyone can ever go through.
She’s done it with a real dignity and more importantly an honesty that has meant not only can people understand what she is going through, but she allows Jake’s legacy to live on.
Harry would have been in awe of the bundle of energy that Jake was and I know he and Ellie will both hear so much about him as they grow up.
Because that gorgeous, crazy little boy really does live on in her, her two boys and her baby girl. He’ll never be forgotten and he’ll always be an inspiration.