105,000 Morrisons staff will get Abigail Laidlaw’s Christmas card this year, but it is a Christmas her parents feared she might not see. Catherine Scott reports.
A smiling Abigail Laidlaw clutches her winning Christmas card proudly as she celebrates a competition which will see 105,000 Morrisons staff receive her card.
The six-year-old’s design was chosen by the CEO of Morrisons, David Potts, after she was nominated by the supermarket’s partner charity CLIC Sargent.
It is all very different from this time last year, when Abigail was fighting for her life and her parents feared it might be her last Christmas after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in November 2016.
Her mum Jo first noticed Abigail wasn’t well when she was shortlisted to appear in an advert after being put forward by her drama class.
“They asked for a headshot and it was while taking Abigail’s photo that I realised how pale she looked, but she is such a tenacious character that she doesn’t let anything stop her from what she wants to do, and there didn’t seem to be anything else wrong with her,” says Jo from Sprotbrough. “There were really no other signs other than one day she said her legs hurt after a swimming lesson.”
But her mother’s intuition told her that something was wrong with her little girl. Luckily, her GP took her concerns seriously and although he thought she may have glandular fever, he sent Abigail for blood tests.
The blood tests found something far more sinister than glandular fever and within hours they were on ward M3 – the oncology ward at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, being treated for leukaemia.
“It was crippling” says mum of three Jo, who is married to Stuart. “Fear engulfed my every being. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I just wanted to run and take her out of there and take her with me. That first week in hospital was intense, we were plunged into a world of lumbar punctures, vincristine, dexamethasone, portacaths – all medical terms that became a part of our everyday life. Abigail was amazing. She is very bright and was reading Matilda at three and half and so she could read the names of all the drugs as they were being written down. We never shied away from what was happening to her, but it was her and her two sisters who got us through.”
Abigail was sent home to spend Christmas 2016 with her family, but was still undergoing intensive treatment that made her unwell.
“We put the Christmas tree up early as we were worried she wouldn’t feel up to it later on in the month. We were constantly worried that she was going to be sent back to hospital and our family would be split up on the big day. And the fear that this would be our last Christmas with Abigail was just horrific.
“On Christmas Day Abigail had taken her last dose of steroids. I remember looking at her and thinking ‘you just do not look like my daughter’. But she was on form and so happy that Father Christmas had been. We were all together at my mum’s and my sister came round and we were playing games – pass the sprout and speak out – but it was totally tainted by the fear and sadness of what was happening.”
It also took its toll on Abigail’s older sister Isabel, who was six at the time.
“All our three girls are close in age and Isabel is extremely caring. When Abigail lost her long ‘princess’ hair and was quite upset about it, Isabel offered to cut hers off too. She raised £4,000, half of which went to Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
“Her little sister Eleanor was too young to know what was going on, but she really kept Abigail going. She made her play with her even when she felt poorly,but it was the best thing for them really.”
The family was also helped by the children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent who appointed a social worker, Louise, who helped them cope with the devastating reality of cancer.
“Louise was there right from the beginning and has been the most amazing support. Not just helping us practically with financial support, but the emotional impacts on all of us, including Isabel.”
Louise also helped arrange Disability Living Allowance, sourced a new bike for Abigail to help with her rehabilitation and arranged two breaks for the family. “Louise helped us function for our other children” says Jo. “Looking after Isabel’s needs and worries was paramount as well as Abigail’s. She told me once:‘I knew Louise was going to tell me the truth. I knew you wanted to protect me but she would tell me the truth.’ Louise picked me up off the floor so many times.”
CLIC Sargent gave the family a £170 grant offered to all families following a diagnosis to help with the extra costs incurred through treatment. For the Laidlaws, that meant relief from the £15-a-day car park charges and petrol costs at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
After months of intensive chemotherapy, Abigail is now in maintenance. She has oral chemotherapy every evening, an additional oral chemotherapy on a Wednesday, monthly pulses of chemotherapy into her portacath and five days of steroids. She will remain on maintenance until April 2019. To her parents she is a ‘superhero’.
“I can’t think CLIC Sargent enough for what they have done for our family” said Jo. “This Christmas will be really special. Abigail is so pleased her Christmas card design was chosen. This Christmas Day we will be at my mum’s again surrounded by family playing games with laughter and fun.
“After such a traumatic Christmas last year, we are finally looking forward to being able to enjoy time together as a family this Christmas.”