A brave, beautiful little girl has captured my heart, who is currently in desperate need of donations to get the cancer treatment she needs.
Eliza and her family live very close to me, and she reminds me of my own daughter, which may be why her story has really pulled at my heart strings. I wrote this story for my local newspaper in the hope that I could raise awareness of her condition, and I thought I would share her story with you, too.
2-year-old Eliza Donnelly of Cilgwyn in Newport, Pembrokeshire, was diagnosed in July with a rare and aggressive form of children’s cancer. The type of cancer that Eliza is suffering from is called Neuroblastoma, and is the second most common solid tumour in children, affecting just under 100 children a year in the UK.
It’s a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), most often occurring in the abdomen. The stage of a cancer describes how far it has grown or spread. The stage is important because it helps determine the best treatment. There are four main stages of neuroblastoma:
Stage 1 means the tumour is in one area of the body and hasn’t spread. It can be completely removed with surgery.
Stage 2 is divided into 2A and 2B. In 2A, the tumour can’t be completely removed with surgery because of its size or position, but there are no cancer cells in any lymph nodes. In stage 2B, it may or may not be possible to completely remove the tumour, but it has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3 means that the tumour can’t be completely removed with surgery and there is either tumour on both sides of the body (either side of the spine) or there is tumour on one side of the body and lymph nodes containing cancer cells on the other.
Stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to parts of the body that are some distance from where it started.
Unfortunately, the type of cancer that Eliza is suffering from, is stage 4.
The JustGiving Page, set up by next door neighbour, Amy Turner, explained how Eliza was in a serious condition and in severe pain when she was first taken to hospital, and was arching her back to stop the tumor pressing against her organs.
Eliza’s parents, Maya and Robin, explain: “My heart was broken into a thousand pieces and I spent the first few weeks desperately trying to make a plan to fix Eliza in between completely falling apart.”
While Eliza is responding well so far to an intense programme of chemotherapy, the outlook is still unclear. Her family have thrown themselves into researching complementary therapy to give her the best chances of survival.
Complementary treatment will include travel to the renowned Hufeland Clinic, Germany, for immune system rebuilding after chemotherapy, plus a tailored plan of specially developed dietary supplements and food, some of which need to be imported from America.
With the complementary treatment totalling an estimated £60,000, friends of the family launched the fundraising campaign, through popular online platform JustGiving. The fund raised nearly £6,000 from over 190 supporters within its first 36 hours.
Since then, the campaign has gained over £28,000 in donations.
“The battle is by no means won and we have a long road ahead. This cancer is extremely difficult to clear and relapses are common,” explained Robin. “At which point, we may have to seek more intensive chemotherapy and immunotherapy outside of the United Kingdom.
“But we have hope, and are so grateful for the support received so far. And with Eliza’s amazingly positive character, she has made huge strides already, so we feel we are on the right track.”
I spoke to next-door neighbour, Amy Turner, who helped set up the JustGiving page. She said: “Eliza is a very lively 2-year-old. She’s bubbly, very smiley, and she’s always making people laugh! She’s just a lovely 2-year-old girl.”
She continued: “Robin and Maya first noticed between May and June that she wasn’t quite herself. In June, they investigated further and in July she was diagnosed.
“She’s currently going backwards and forwards to Cardiff, and she’s having her third chemotherapy treatment at the moment. She comes home for 10 days and goes to hospital for 3 days for the chemotherapy, because she seems happier to be with her family in the home environment, so it’s best for her to come home for the 10 days inbetween.”
When asked how the chemotherapy affects Eliza, Amy said: “I’ve just had a message from Maya to say she’s bubbly and smiley. It must take it out of her, but she’s always been a strong little character.”
Amy explained that the chemotherapy is reducing the size of the tumor, and is therefore no longer pressing on her organs or anything and making it uncomfortable.
I asked why Amy took it upon herself to start the JustGiving page. Amy said: “We live next door to Robin and Maya, and we know Eliza and all of the family really well, and we can see they’re doing everything in their power to save their little girl’s life.
“They’ve also got two other small boys and don’t have enough time to look after her and provide the environment she needs, and go about fundraising. So, me and a couple of Maya’s close friends have got together and decided to put out the appeal and do the fundraising on their behalf.”
Amy continued: “She needs needs the treatment to help her live a normal life like any other child – if she overcomes the cancer. She deserves a life like everybody else.
“Robin and Maya have thrown themselves into trying to create the best environment for her. She has to have a special dietary plan, and they’re making sure that everything recommended is done, trying to make sure that they give her the best chance of survival.”
An event was held at Bluestone Brewery on Friday, September 9 in order to raise additional funds for Eliza. Amy said: “All the bar staff and security were working free of charge, and local businesses came together to support the event. It’s the only fundraising event we’ve done at the moment, but there’s such a strong community feel that we’ll pull together and do some more.”
The funds raised came to £2.680.22 including £400 in cheques, and the takings at the bar which came to £1,359.78, which were handed over by Bluestone Brewing Co.
Amy said: “We’re so grateful people are putting their hands in their pockets. Thank you.”
Amy also decided to run the Cardiff Half Marathon to raise even more money for Eliza last weekend, and managedto raise a whopping £1,800 for Eliza – all by herself! Before the completion the the Cardiff Half, she said: “Despite the lack of training, I am determined to run the Cardiff Half Marathon to raise money for Eliza. My heart breaks every time I think about Eliza and the trauma her poor family are going through.
“I will be running with this little girl in mind.”
If you would like to make a donation to help save 2-year-old Eliza’s life, please visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Help-Eliza.