Emily McAllister, 40, from Huddersfield, tells us how a holiday to Primrose Valley funded by Ruddi’s Retreat helped her family to reconnect, relax and have fun during her daughter’s cancer treatment and beyond
My daughter Savannah is a happy, kind and bubbly seven-year-old. She is very sensitive, perceiving things most people her age wouldn’t even notice, and has an extremely compassionate side that people often comment on. I think this is because of all she has been through over the last five years, which has given her empathy towards others.
Savannah’s health problems began in March 2016, when she was just two years old. She had always been well, but when we went to pick her up from nursery one Thursday, they said she seemed a bit off-colour. I thought she was coming down with a cold or chickenpox, so took her home to rest.
Over the weekend, she still seemed quite lethargic and was off her food. On Sunday, we all went out for a meal and she fell asleep in the car. As I was lifting her out, her trouser leg rolled up and I froze in shock – she was covered in an angry, red rash.
Thinking she had meningitis, we rushed to A&E. They did a blood test, which revealed her white blood cell count was off the scale, then transferred her to Leeds General Infirmary for more tests. Within 24 hours, the doctor sat us down and told us Savannah had leukaemia and would need her first dose of chemotherapy that same day. My husband, Andy, and I were completely floored.
Over the next two and a half years, Savannah – who we later found out had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer that affects white blood cells and progresses quickly – was given daily chemotherapy, so she was constantly hooked up to different devices. She also had 27 blood and platelet transfusions, lumbar punctures, and massive doses of steroids that bloated her up. She got a bad case of pneumonia which left scarring on her lungs, and developed hearing problems as well as a limp and turning-in of one of her feet. Perhaps worst of all, she didn’t understand what was happening to her or why everyone was hurting her, which was heartbreaking for us.
“For two and a half years, Savannah was given daily chemotherapy, so was constantly hooked up to devices”
Each appointment meant we had to travel back and forth between Leeds and Huddersfield, which takes about 45 minutes and the same for each time Savannah had a raised temperature. I had to go on sick leave to care for her. It was extremely difficult for my other children, Scarlett, Stanley and Sid, who were just five, four and one at the time. Our separation as a family had a big emotional impact on us all.
“They helped us to find happiness among the dark days”
During this time, Ruddi’s Retreat – whose fundraising events I had attended for years – got in touch to see if we would like to go on holiday to one of its caravans in Primrose Valley in North Yorkshire. It was nearly six months into Savannah’s treatment and we were so engrossed in just surviving every day that going on holiday would never have crossed our minds. However, we knew about the charity’s work helping families with sick children to manage a holiday, and we thought that if other families could do it, maybe we could too. We took up the offer, and were so glad we did.
The sun shone the whole week, so we spent most of the time on the beach. We also went to the disco in the evenings, played crazy golf and walked along the beach to Filey for fish and chips. The caravan was fully equipped with games and DVDs to keep us entertained during times Savannah was unable to go out, so there was always plenty to do. For months, Savannah hadn’t been well enough to do anything, so to be able to spend time having fun as a family and reconnecting was fantastic. It helped us to realise we were a strong unit and together we could get through this, which helped to keep me going when times got tough.
“They gave us a chance to get away from it all, just breathe and reconnect as a family, which was invaluable”
On 12 May 2018 – a week before her fifth birthday – Savannah finally finished her cancer treatment. Although we were told she would still need to attend regular hospital appointments to check for relapse, as well as to deal with the side effects of her treatment, it was wonderful to know the chemotherapy was finally over.
Remembering the wonderful time we had had at Primrose Valley, I got in touch with Ruddi’s Retreat to see if it could squeeze us in at the last minute for Savannah’s birthday, which luckily it could. Savannah had spent her third birthday in hospital in isolation and we had had to cancel her fourth-birthday party because she was so unwell, so we thought it would be a lovely treat to get away and celebrate three birthdays in one. When I picked the children up that night and told them we were going back to Primrose Valley, their excitement was off the scale!
This time around we could all relax more, as Savannah’s treatment had finished, and she was able to join her siblings in the swimming pool, run about and have fun just like any other child. We also told the compères during the evening entertainment that it was her birthday and they got her up on stage and made a big fuss of her – not only for her birthday but for finishing her treatment. It was the perfect way to celebrate those two awful years being over.
When you’re caring for a sick child and trying to survive on a reduced income, planning a family holiday is just not on your list of priorities, but the holidays Ruddi’s Retreat offer families like ours really make such a difference. Those tiny glimmers of happiness among the dark days help so much. It gives you that chance to get away from it all, breathe and reconnect with your family, which is invaluable.
Ruddi’s Retreat respite breaks
TOTAL RAISED: £4,768
The money raised in The Candis Big Give will be used to provide children living with cancer or other life-limiting illnesses and their families with a respite break at one of its four accessible and fully kitted-out caravans at Primrose Valley in Filey, North Yorkshire.
Visit ruddisretreat.org to find out more
Donations to date
We never forget it’s YOUR subscriptions that enable Candis Club to give huge amounts to charities. Our running total shows how much
£31,620,386 to the Cancer and Polio Research Fund (1962 to 2002)
£4,429,597 to the National Asthma Campaign (1990 to 2002)
£5,500,979 to Marie Curie (1998 to 2012)
£3,304,767 to Macmillan Cancer Support (1993 to 2013)
£3,309,982 to Bliss, the special care baby charity (1990 to 2009)
£2,190,977 to Liverpool University’s Cancer Tissue Bank Research Centre (1989 to 1993)
£1,549,998 to the British Heart Foundation (2002 to 2008)
£914,053 to local groups via the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) (1990 to 2009)
£220,000 to ICAN (1989)
£246,876 to Tommy’s, the baby charity (2006 to 2009)
£303,774 to Children’s Hospices UK (2008 to 2010)
£2,500,000 to charities in The Candis Big Give
TOTAL TO DATE
In 2020, Candis Club will donate at least £250,000 from members’ magazine subscription revenue to health charities taking part in The Candis Big Give. Any additional funds will go to charities at the discretion of the General Committee of Candis Club
Make a difference
We’ve highlighted some of the charities taking part in The Candis Big Give. For a full list, and details of the life-changing projects they’re raising money for, visit candis.co.uk/charity
BREAST CANCER HAVEN
What it does: Provides emotional, practical and physical support to breast cancer sufferers. Candis Big Give project: Money raised will help the charity to provide its breast cancer support programme. Location: National Total raised: £73,766
CHAILEY HERITAGE FOUNDATION
What it does: Helps and supports children with physical disabilities. Candis Big Give project: To buy equipment that aids limb movement. Location: Sussex Total raised: £21,247
What it does: Supports people with epidermolysis bullosa (EB). Candis Big Give project: To fund enhanced care for children at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Location: London Total raised: £37,042
NOAH’S ARK CHARITY
What it does: Fundraises for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales. Candis Big Give project: To fund facilities for the Jungle Ward. Location: Cardiff Total raised: £70,674
THE BRAIN TUMOUR CHARITY
What it does: Supports people affected by brain tumours. Candis Big Give project: Money raised will be invested into research into brain tumours. Location: National Total raised: £100,518
THE CHILDREN’S TRUST
What it does: Supports children with a brain injury. Candis Big Give project: To offer activities and therapy to children. Location: Surrey Total raised: £80,048
What it does: Provides memorable Special Days for seriously ill adults. Candis Big Give project: To offer a positive focus away from treatment. Location: National Total raised: £45,224
How Buying a Subscription Helps – In 2020, Candis Club will donate at least £250,000 from members’ magazine subscription revenue to health charities taking part in The Candis Big Give.
Any additional funds will go tocharities at the discretion of the General Committee of Candis Club.