AFTER LOSING HER FIRST CHILD TO A RARE AND AGGRESSIVE FORM OF CHILDHOOD CANCER JENNIFER GILL FROM LEVEN, FIFE, HAS GONE FORWARD FROM TRAGEDY TO HELP OVER 650 SCOTTISH FAMILIES FACING THE SAME DEVASTATING JOURNEY. HERE, JENNIFER EXPLAINS HOW THE CHARITY SHE SET UP IN HIS MEMORY, LOVEOLIVER, HELPS SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT IN THE DARKEST OF DAYS…
Our first child Oliver was born in July 2010. Like any new parents my husband Andy and I were thrilled and couldn’t wait to bring him home to start our lives together as a family. However, when Oliver was only a few days old he was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of cancer – a malignant Rhabdoid Tumour. His first weeks of life were instead spent at Edinburgh Sick Kids with the prospect of 30 weeks of intensive chemotherapy and surgery. For a while he seemed to be doing really well…smiling and thriving. Given his young age, the doctors admitted that they weren’t sure how it was going to go, however initially they were really pleased as to how he was responding and confident that the treatment was going well. But at the halfway point, a scan to help plan for his surgery showed that the disease was in fact spreading and we were told that any further treatment would just be too much for him. Oliver would have needed a lot of radiotherapy and he was just too young. We left the hospital for home on November 18 and after only five short weeks together Oliver passed away peacefully on Christmas day morning aged just 24 weeks old.
At Oliver’s funeral, on New Year’s Eve, we took a collection – knowing that we wanted to make a donation to a good cause but we just weren’t quite sure what that would be. We had kept a blog of our experience on Facebook and received so much support and interest in Oliver’s story that fundraising in his name was a natural progression. LoveOliver became a registered charity the following year in July 2011 and to date, incredibly, we have raised over £475,000. Research into childhood cancer is so underfunded, often relying on donations from smaller charities such as ours, so for us it was a priority to support it and make what difference we could. We started off part- funding one four-year scholarship at Newcastle University and have gone on to commit to fully funding a second PhD studentship. We also initially supported a ward at Edinburgh Sick Kids, however as the charity has grown we are now able to offer practical support to newly diagnosed families from across Scotland who are facing the same devastating journey. This ranges from giving out supermarket vouchers or financial grants, to gifts for the children, supplies to therapists as well as toys, games and books for wards, plus various items from cookers to dining tables for the CLIC Sargent house in Edinburgh. Every newly diagnosed child/family now receives support from LoveOliver. The financial pressure on families of children with cancer are enormous so we want to relieve that as much as we can.
Childhood cancer is seen as rare however there are 11 new cases every day in the UK and about 150 new cases a year in Scotland. For the parents of those children that’s not rare enough. We fundraise in lots of different ways. We host a pre-loved toy and children’s clothes fair twice a year in Kirkcaldy. The next event is on May 26 so if anyone would like to come along or make a donation that would be fantastic. This will be our tenth event and to mark the occasion we’re making it into a bit of a family fun day with lots of activities the kids will enjoy. We host an annual cycle event in Fife on August 4, which is for all abilities, and we are currently planning a family Disney Karaoke sing-along – which is just so much fun – so keep an eye out on our Facebook page for that. If anyone is taking part in a marathon or half- marathon and would like to fundraise for us we’ll send them a T-Shirt and a water bottle. Any amount raised is always welcome and it means such a lot to us for people to want to help. Any publicity helps the charity no end. We have a huge team of friends, family and volunteers who regularly get involved but we would truly love to hear from anyone else out there who can create awareness and help us continue to help families and children in Oliver’s name.”
This January Jennifer was given a British Citizen Award for her services to volunteering and charitable giving. The British Citizen Awards recognise exceptional individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly to make a positive impact on society. BCAs are awarded twice annually and recognise ‘everyday’ people whose achievements may otherwise be overlooked. Jennifer was amongst 36 medallists honoured at the prestigious ceremony at the Palace of Westminster, receiving a Medal of Honour, inscribed with the words ‘For the Good of the Country’.
Contact Jennifer and find LoveOliver events via the Facebook page and by visiting LoveOliver.org.uk