Jessica Whelan “finally found peace” on Sunday after putting up a brave fight against cancer, the Guardian is reporting. Her 30-year-old father broke the devastating news on a Facebook page opened to document her struggle with the disease.
“I feel both sadness and relief in informing you all that Jessica finally found peace at seven o’clock this morning… no longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints on her body.”
The 4-year-old had been battling neuroblastoma, a vicious form of cancer that destroys the nervous system of babies and young children. The rare form of cancer is usually found in the nerve tissue that runs alongside the spinal cord, chest, neck, or pelvis and the adrenal glands of the abdomen. The little girl from Lancashire in the United Kingdom had been fighting the aggressive form of cancer for 13 months. About 100 children are diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in the United Kingdom every year.
In October, her father, Andrew Whelan, opened a Facebook page to highlight his daughter’s struggle with the dreaded disease. Jessica’s initial picture of writhing in terrible pain came to symbolize the “darkness that is childhood cancer.” Whelan said he want to create more awareness about the disease.
“The face of cancer isn’t the bald-head smiling child surrounded by celebrities, it’s just not. I’ve had many people saying they took photos like this but couldn’t look at them. I’ve had people saying ‘yes, that’s what I went through too.’ And for those that haven’t, it highlights just how awful child cancer is. That’s what I was trying to show… its opening people’s eyes up to what is going on in the world.”
Jessica was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma in September of 2015. Her parents had taken her to the hospital after she complained of pains in her arms and shoulders. The little girl spent 10 weeks in the hospital, at which time the doctors diagnosed a bone infection.
However, just when the little girl was to be discharged, the doctors decided to run an additional test because Jessica had been crying in pain all night. The doctors thought it was a case of constipation until they found a mass in her tummy. Her father said his daughter was already in her coat to return home when the discovery was made.
“One of the nurses told the doctor so he decided to check her tummy to make sure it was nothing more than constipation… it was devastating… Jessica was all ready to come home. She was even in her coat. Then we were told she’d need to stay in hospital for more tests.”
A series of tests revealed that the mass around Jessica Whelan’s liver was cancer.
The Whelans asked the doctors how long their daughter had left, and they were told she could live a couple more years if the cancer could be curbed. Jessica started chemotherapy almost immediately. Unfortunately, after three months, there was still bad news.
The tumor was still the same size.
But as months passed, her condition improved, and she even grew her hair back and moved back home with her parents. Andrew and his wife, Nicki, were hopeful that their little girl was getting better. But after the clinical trial ended, the tumor was still the same size.
It was then that the consultant broke the terrible news that it was not a case of trying to curb the cancer but prolonging the little girl’s life. Her parents refused to give up and opted for targeted radiation therapy; experts had said that the MIBG procedure could guarantee them an additional two years with their child.
Jessica Whelan started the procedure in August, but by October, the cancer had spread from her liver to other parts of her body. Andrew said he knew the procedure had failed when the consultant asked for a nurse to take Jessica away so that he could have a word with her parents.
“We knew something was wrong straight after his examination as he asked for a nurse to take Jessica away while he spoke to us…despite Jessica appearing to do so well after the radiation treatment, her cancer had spread. There were little, or no treatment options left. We asked our oncologist what the likely timeframe we had to work with, and he told us we were looking at months.”
The Whelans said there were other clinical trials available and were at a crossroads on whether to go ahead with an alternative treatment or let their daughter enjoy the rest of her life with the little time that was left. Her father said pumping Jessica full of chemicals was a selfish way of keeping her alive. The Whelans decided to think of their daughter and not themselves.
They stopped Jessica’s treatment October 12th.
On October 7, the Whelans started a GoFundMe Page for their daughter to give her “as much happiness and enjoyment as possible.” Their target was around $25,000, but they reeled in over $120,000 within days. Andrew and Nicki have pledged to donate the remaining money to childhood cancer research.
An online petition has been initiated by Jessica’s family clamoring for more funding and awareness in the fight against cancer. As of the time of this report, the petition had garnered more than 115,000 signatures. A debate has been penciled for November 28.
[Image by Andrew Whelan/Facebook]