Warwick-based Children’s charity Molly Ollys’ Wishes has reached a £2 million fundraising milestone}. Amanda Chalmers looks back on the emotional story behind why the charity was founded in memory of a very brave little girl.
Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw remember September 6 2006 as the day in which their lives and the lives of their children changed forever.
It was only a few weeks off daughter Molly’s fourth birthday, when Rachel and Tim noticed the first signs of her illness.
While on a family day out Molly became increasingly uncomfortable and the situation quickly escalated when, the next day, she found herself in A&E.
A scan later detected a tumour in her left kidney.
What followed was the worst possible news – it had been diagnosed as a rare kind of kidney cancer called a Wilms tumour and she was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital to begin a six-month course of chemotherapy before undergoing an operation to remove the kidney.
She was given the all-clear and life began to return to normal for the Claverdon School pupil, until the news came just 18 months later – the cancer had returned, this time on her bowel. More chemotherapy followed and the tumour was again removed, but Molly struggled to cope with her treatment the second time around.
It was during this time that Molly joined the CLIC Sargent Youth Advisory Group to help improve the lives of children with cancer and, in 2010, narrated an Ardmann Studios short animated film designed as a guide for coping with radiotherapy.
It is being widely used today in the UK and overseas to help improve the patient experience.
Free from cancer for a few more months, May 2010 was to bring the news the family had dreaded – the cancer had returned again to Molly’s liver.
And, despite a further operation, a stem cell transplant and a further aggressive round of chemotherapy, a fourth tumour appeared in March 2011.
It was to be just two and a half precious months until Molly lost her brave battle and slipped away at the family home in Hatton Park on June 15 2011, with mum and dad by her side.
Tim and Rachel had spent a large part of those five years in and out of hospital and soon realised that many of the patients they met did not benefit from the emotional or financial support that they had received for Molly and her brother Ben, now 17, and sister Maeve, now 14.
Driven by this – and a determination to keep Molly’s legacy alive -the charity Molly Olly’s Wishes was officially founded in September 2011.
The charity, which helps children from newborn to age 18 with terminal or life threatening illnesses by granting individual wishes, has just reached a £2 million fundraising milestone (see page 4).
Rachel said: “It never ceases to amaze us how many people Molly inspired in her short life.
“She achieved more in that time than many of us do in our lifetimes.
“She had a great smile and a big heart to go with it.
“We miss her so very much and words cannot describe the pain we feel no longer being able to hug her, have her with us and enjoy her perspective on life.
“We take massive comfort from helping other children and their families in their dark days and that keeps Molly in all our hearts.”
The ‘wishes’ granted by the charity may take the form of equipment to help a child live day to day with their condition, an alternative therapy treatment to complement traditional medicine, or even a special occasion or day out.
Rachel said: “In doing the wishes the one thing I hadn’t anticipated is how grateful people are and how they want to fundraise for you in return.
“As we grow and provide more wishes, more families want to help the charity.
“We know that little things can have a big impact and that time spent with family is priceless.
“Any request for a wish is discussed with families and the relevant health care professional to ensure that it supports the child as much as possible.”
The Ollerenshaws have also been overwhelmed by the amount of fundraising support they have received including a wide variety of events from gala balls and sporting occasions through to individual sponsored challenges.
But one of the charity’s proudest achievements came in April last year with the funding of the first Molly Olly consultant in paediatric palliative medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Rachel said: “The hospital did not have a palliative paediatrician and had been trying to get funding for the post for some time. This is a massive achievement for a small charity like ours.”
Some 30 children a week in the UK are given a cancer diagnosis, and more are told that they have a life-threatening or terminal illness in one form or another.
Many of these, especially those diagnosed with leukaemia, will be under five years old.
Rachel added: “When children are newly diagnosed with any life-threatening or terminal illness, the shock to both parents and patients is immense. The hospital environment, full of new sights, sounds and smells can be disturbing.
“They are very quickly thrown into an environment alien to them and have to take in a whole new world of procedures, language and interactions with doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
“This all has to be done while accepting the diagnosis itself.
“It is a very frightening and challenging time for all concerned.”
The Ollerenshaw’s journey has been deeply emotional, but one that Rachel says has brought a whole new perspective.
She said: “I feel very privileged to be able to help people and do something that I find very rewarding and that you feel is making a very real difference to people’s lives.
“Situations like Molly’s are rare and that can make you feel isolated and alone.
“We want families to feel supported and to know that we can offer help.
“Receiving the wishes and hearing all the different stories is emotional and very sad at times but sharing these experiences is also therapeutic and builds very strong friendships and a better understanding.”
To find out more information about the charity or how to help visit www.mollyolly.co.uk