Why a Horsham family have a special reason to look forward to Christmas more than most

A Horsham couple are looking forward to Christmas more than most - because it’s the first Christmas in years that their daughter has been free from cancer treatment.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 3:00 pm

Annie and Anthony Martin were unsure if their daughter Issy would make it home in time to celebrate Christmas alongside her two sisters after she first became ill with a rare form of leukaemia three years ago.

But now 14-year-old Issy has been in remission for four months and her family are once more looking forward to celebrating a special time together.

Mum Annie said: “This Christmas we’ve already watched a handful of movies and we are all excited to decorate the house, welcome the elves back and enjoy good food, a tree surrounded with presents and all the fun that Christmas has to offer.

The Martin family with Issy, centre, have more reason than most to look forward to Christmas this year

“But mostly we are just grateful for the chance to spend time together.

“We all appreciate the bond we have as a family more than ever.”

They want to share their story in support of the Young Lives vs Cancer, a charity that believes everyone should have a place to call ‘home’ at Christmas.

Issy first became ill when she was aged just 11. She was in the last term of Year 6 at Horsham’s All Saints Primary School when teachers noticed she was not herself and seemed exhausted.

Mum Annie had also seen a change in Issy, who had become moody and did not want to participate on long walks, had bruises on her body and developed a rash.

Sensing something wasn’t right, Annie took Issy to their GP, who suspected a kidney problem and sent them to A & E.

Annie said: “They took bloods and stuff and she just kept bleeding when they tried to access the cannula and it just kept bleeding crazily, which I now know was a platelet problem.

“The nurse then came in and said ‘I’m just going to sit with you a minute, the doctor wants to have a quick word with you now.’

“It was such a shock. Issy couldn’t have leukaemia, it’s the last thing you expect.

“My husband came straight to the hospital, picked up a few overnight things because we were told she wouldn’t be able to leave.

“I told Issy, she was very, very quiet about it. She was feeling unwell and so she just kind of went along with everything.

“I don’t think she really understood, I don’t think any of us fully understood.”

Issy went by ambulance to St George’s Hospital in Tooting the following morning, where she was put into an isolation room in the paediatric intensive care unit.

Nine days later, the family were told that Issy had a Philadelphia positive chromosome - a very rare form of childhood leukaemia.

Annie said: “We were waiting for medication to take home and then a consultant came in and said: ‘I’m really sorry, we found something else.’

“That was a shocker, a real shocker because we thought we were going home.

“It is a lot more aggressive and harder to treat.”

She added: “It was a massive blow, just as you feel like you’re coming to terms with the diagnosis and prognosis. Then suddenly to hear that, it just floored us completely. You end up thinking what next? What else? At that point we were on our knees.

“We were having Philadelphia explained to us and the horrors it involved.

“That was when my husband broke down, which isn’t like him. He’s such a strong kind of man and doesn’t show his emotions.”

Issy’s treatment meant that she spent three months in The Royal Marsden Hospital.

Annie said: “The treatment, scarily called high risk blocks, were horrendous.”

But, she added:“Issy was so brave, just an incredible and positive kid. The first night in St George’s, when the nurses stuck me in a little bed next to Issy and the lights had gone out, she said to me: ‘Mummy, am I gonna lose all my hair?’

“I got out of my bed and I got into her bed put my arms round and said ‘yeah you will sweetheart but it will grow back.’ And for literally half a second she was quiet. Then she went; ‘Well. At least, I won’t have to wash it for a while.’

This Christmas will be special for the family. In 2019 Issy was in hospital in December, though to make things festive she had Gingerbread the Elf move in to surprise her with his daily antics.

Once she came home, Annie tried hard to make Christmas their best ever but by the time the 25th arrived she was emotionally and physically exhausted and snapped at the children early in the day.

“The horror and the anxiety of the past six months and the suffering I’d seen, not just Issy, but countless children of all ages in pain and fear, it all just became too much,” she said.

“My girls’ faces were shocked, their eyes filled with tears and I appreciated for the first time how deeply affected each member of our family was by cancer.”

This Christmas the family is determined things will be different. But, admitted Annie: “There will still be a row over the Christmas night movie!”

The Martin family hopes that by sharing their story, they can help Young Lives vs Cancer to provide a place to call ‘home’ for other young people and families. To donate, visit: www.younglivesvscancer.org.uk/join-our-fight/christmasappeal/