Maria was a beautiful, intelligent girl. Her life was cruelly cut short by an illness that she and her family knew little about
Maria felt unwell in June 2005. This, we put down to a number of pressures. Her granddad had returned from Spain and was living with us following diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas and she was working extremely hard at school to achieve the A grades she desired which would help in her quest for a University place to study Law.
She went to the doctors, under duress, on 14th June, 2005 and he ordered a routine blood test for what he felt was anaemia. The hospital contacted us on the 15th and Maria was admitted that evening. The following morning, we went down to St Andrews before going into the hospital to renew our season tickets. We thought this would cheer her up. Maria phoned and said that she had been moved to Ward 19 and was going to have a bone marrow test that day. Maria didn’t know what a bone marrow test was but we did. When she said Ward 19, I remember beginning to shake and my worst fears were confirmed that day with the devastating news that Maria had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. We will never forget that day and the words “does that mean I have cancer?”
Maria began her chemotherapy treatment immediately. The doctors explained all the terrible side effects, sickness, diarrhoea, sores in the mouth and other problems that would occur. She was extremely worried, not with the fact that she would be ill and that she had this disease, but because she would lose her hair. A blond haired, blue eyed 16 year old losing her hair – an absolute nightmare to any teenage girl.
Maria spent her days in hospital in an isolation room. Her friends came to visit but had to stay outside. I felt I had to apologise to a lady who was visiting her husband in the opposite room because of all the noise, but she just smiled and said how wonderful to hear so many young voices and they had laughed when they heard a teenage lad, with a broken voice, singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star”.
We became friendly with two families during our time in the hospital, all experiencing the same emotions. Maria would often ask how Rob & Lee were doing, although she had never met them. Lee enquired about Maria and the nurses joked that something must be going on between them.
The prognosis was good. A bone marrow test 2 weeks after the treatment had started showed that the treatment was working. She celebrated her 17th birthday by returning home on 6th July, 2005. Before she left the hospital that day, she wanted to meet Lee. I think she felt that they would become friends and help each other get through their nightmare. Maria had to stay outside Lee’s room but it was a” touching moment” when they started talking about sickness, diarrhoea and the dreaded sores in the mouth.
Maria’s many friends and family came to visit her at home that day. Everyone wanted to show their support and wish her a Happy Birthday. Everyone had left by 7.30 pm, completely unheard of in our house. Maria was extremely tired and fell asleep on the chair straight away.
Maria was re-admitted to hospital the following day with what appeared to be the start of an infection. She became extremely unwell on the 8th July, 2005 and was admitted to Intensive Care on the 9th.
I remember the sudden realisation at about 9.30 that morning when the doctor explained how unwell she was. I asked the question “is there a chance we could lose her”, not really believing I was asking such a question. The doctor replied “yes”. We weren’t expecting that reply and the shock at hearing it will remain with us forever. He told us that she needed the help of a ventilator to breathe and that the next few hours would be critical. During that time, we didn’t really believe that anything would happen to her. We thought, she just needs some help with her breathing; they’ll treat the infection and then she’ll go back to her room on Ward 19. Nothing prepared us for what would happen at 4.00 pm that afternoon.
The following days, weeks and months were a complete blur. How could this happen? This is a question we have asked ourselves time and time again. One of the hardest things we have had to do is arrange the funeral of our beloved 17 year old daughter. In a way, it kept us going – gave us something to do.
There were some fantastic tributes to Maria from her teacher, our priest and her brother David. We played some of her favourite music, her friend sang, her cousin wrote and read a poem and we left the Church to her favourite song, “Wonderwall”. The church was full and the sad part is that it was full of young people who didn’t know what had hit them. The procession down towards the grave is something we will never forget. As we reached the bottom of the hill we looked up. All those people, there for our daughter. She had obviously impacted on so many people’s lives.