A tower of strength

‘Mandy has helped me through the hardest part of my life and treated my daughter like her own’

When single mother Emma Hamsher lost her only child to cancer she did not think she would get through it.

As Emma, 43, approaches the third anniversary of the death of her daughter Millie Mae, who passed away aged six on October 28, 2014, Emma decided to share her story because of the support she has received from Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, without whom she says she might not be here today.

Emma, from Beckenham, is encouraging people to support Rainbow Trust’s Big Hour campaign throughout October, which appeals to people to make the most of their extra hour when the clocks go back this Sunday by donating an hour of their wages, or holding a 60-minute fundraiser, to help support families caring for a seriously ill child.

Rainbow Trust supports families caring for a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness during treatment, diagnosis and, if needed, through bereavement. It matches families with expert family support workers who provide emotional and practical support at home, in hospital and in the community. Family support worker Mandy supported Millie Mae and Emma throughout Millie’s illness by taking them to hospital appointments and supporting them at home. She continues to be a great source of strength to Emma and sat with her throughout the interview for the South London Press.    

Emma said: “Millie Mae took to Mandy immediately, she had Mandy wrapped around her little finger and the two of them were double trouble.”


One of Emma’s favourite memories is when the three of them went to Chessington World of Adventures, and another was when Mandy gave Millie Mae a tea set to paint and she got covered in paint.

Emma said: “Millie Mae couldn’t stop giggling about the mess she was in and it was a lot of fun. I have the tea set in her bedroom, it is a very special keepsake.”

Mandy has been a tower of strength for Emma during darker times as well.

“Mandy has helped me through the hardest part of my life and treated my daughter like her own,” Emma said.

Millie Mae had been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type one, a genetic condition causing tumours to grow along the nerves, when she was 12 months old, but her health deteriorated in June 2014 when she was six.

She lost her co-ordination and movement on her right side and was admitted to hospital and they were referred to Rainbow Trust.

“I started to realise how difficult it was,” Emma said.

“I was a single parent. Family, friends and Bromley Road Primary School have been very supportive but I could not have gone up to hospital in London with Millie Mae in a wheelchair without Mandy and at home it became really isolating. To have Mandy at the end of the phone was a great relief.”

First diagnosed with a low grade tumour, Millie Mae’s prognosis was good. Emma and Mandy were at Millie Mae’s side throughout her weekly chemotherapy sessions and Mandy accompanied them to her numerous scans, which involved extremely long days and evenings in hospital.

“She was going to be OK but then she started deteriorating and couldn’t speak or walk and used a wheelchair because her leg muscles were so weak,” Emma said.

“There were times at hospital where I got really distressed but I did not want Millie to see me upset but Mandy was there and Millie Mae was comfortable with her.”

Further scans and a biopsy in July and August revealed the worst, that both tumours were inoperable.

“Millie Mae had a very aggressive tumour,” Emma said. “I never gave up hope and her passing was very unexpected. I thought she would make it through her radiotherapy but she passed away on the first day she had it due to seizures that couldn’t be controlled.

“The morning after Millie Mae passed away, Mandy was a tower of strength, helping with things that I couldn’t possibly have comprehended,” Emma said.

Mandy  suggested they say goodbye to Millie Mae at the Butterfly Room at Demelza Hospice Care for Children.

“We took Millie Mae to the Butterfly Room to lay her to rest before her funeral arrangements were made,” Emma said.

“I stayed in my own room and could see Millie Mae any time I wanted. This gave me five more precious days with her. Nothing could have prepared me for Millie Mae passing but Mandy really went above and beyond in making all of the arrangements for this to happen. It was an amazing thing to do in such a delicate situation.

“Taking Millie Mae to Demelza saved my life. I have no doubts about that at all. I could not have left her at the hospital and then walked away. Millie Mae spent the last six weeks of her life in hospital and we had ongoing, regular support from Mandy.

“If I’m having a bad day then I have a chat with Mandy and I always feel much better. It takes a special kind of person to do such amazing work and Mandy is a very special lady.”

Eight weeks after Millie Mae passed away Emma’s mother passed away and Mandy supported Emma throughout and drove her to Putney Vale Cemetery to help her make arrangements for her mother to be laid to rest with her father.

“I want to raise awareness of Rainbow Trust because charities like this don’t get the recognition they deserve. And I am speaking out because it is about Millie Mae’s journey and about how well she was supported.

“No amount of words can describe the true sadness of my daughter’s journey. I just hope that sharing our story will raise awareness of such amazing support and dedication this amazing charity and Mandy brought to our lives at such a painful time.

“Although we have a lot of sad memories we also have happy and funny memories too which we often smile and talk about.

“I would say to anyone going through anything like this, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to accept it. If Millie Mae knew I was calm, she was alright. I always feel I had two little girls, the happy, healthy one before our world was blown apart and the poorly one who fought so bravely and always had a smile and a thumbs-up for everyone.”

Please donate hour’s PAY to RAINBOW Trust

Rainbow Trust’s Big Hour campaign celebrates the extra hour when the clocks go back on October 29.

The charity is calling on South London Press readers to get involved by donating an hour of your wages or holding a 60-minute fundraiser to help support families caring for a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness.

An hour of support from a Rainbow Trust family support worker can make all the difference to a family who has a seriously ill child.

To use the ‘wage exchange’ calculator and to find out more visit: rainbowtrust.org.uk/big-hour

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