A couple who spent five years trying to conceive have spoken of their joy that their baby daughter has been given the all-clear from the rare cancer she was diagnosed with aged just a few months old.
When little Maddison Holt was diagnosed with a myofibroblastic tumour just months after she was born it was a devastating blow for parents Rob, 31, and Natasha Holt, 30, who had spent five years trying to fall pregnant, eventually turning to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
“Maddison is our first child and was a long time in the making,” Rob, from Leeds, West Yorkshire, explains.
“The IVF was a gruelling process and we must've gone through 10 pregnancy tests a day but we were beyond happy when we got pregnant.
“Maddison was an unbelievable miracle.”
The couple were thrilled when their daughter was able to be with them at their wedding, just a month after she was born in August 2019.
“It was amazing to have Maddison there - though no one cared about us, she stole the show in her little gorgeous white dress,”
But the couple’s joy was short-lived when her grandmother spotted a lump in her stomach just a month after their wedding.
"We didn’t expect it to be anything serious but we thought we’d bring her to the hospital to check,” Rob says.
Maddison was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary where the family spent eight difficult weeks waiting for a diagnosis.
In November, following a bowel check-up, her parents were told that Maddison had a rare childhood cancer and would need to start a treatment of chemotherapy.
“When they said cancer, I refused to believe it. It couldn’t be true. Not after everything we’d been through,” Rob, a locksmith, says.
“We’d been going through a five-year nightmare and just when we thought we’d escaped it, our world was rocked again.
“I kept thinking to myself: 'is my little girl going to die?'
“I felt broken, raw and lost. Whenever I left the hospital I would cry for hours on end.”
Maddison began a treatment of chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumour in late November, but just weeks later she was rushed back into the hospital with a bad case of bronchitis.
She was placed into isolation, put on oxygen and ended up having three blood transfusions.
The family was told that Maddison could not go home until she was able to breathe for 24 hours on her own – and on Christmas Eve she finally managed it.
Maddison spent her first Christmas and new year at home with her family before going back to the consultants on 3 January.
But doctors weren’t able to give news they hoped for and the family were told that the chemotherapy had not shrunk the tumour and Maddison would need to have surgery.
“I was so scared,” Rob says. “She’d just started to smile and had her first giggle. Selfishly, I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing that gorgeous giggle again.
“Everyone handled the news much better than me, I just stared at her and cried and cried.
“She was so brave and so was Natasha. I couldn’t be prouder of my two girls – I was completely useless but they were both amazing.”
I couldn’t be prouder of my girls, says father Rob
Maddison underwent the six-hour surgery just days later on 8 January, but thankfully the worried parents were told the news that doctors had removed 100% of the tumour.
Rob is now sharing his family’s story to raise awareness about childhood cancers and to encourage people to open up and talk about what they're going through.
“One day I just opened the notes app on my phone and began writing and writing,” he explains.
“When I actually read back through what I’d written it was really emotional. It was like I’d finally grasped the enormity of what had happened instead of keeping it all bottled up inside.
“I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just thought that if I could help one person recognise the signs of cancer or open up emotionally, then it was worth it.
“Mental health is so important,” he adds.
Maddison is now six months old and finally home with her family and cancer free.
Looking back on their ordeal, Natasha, who also works as locksmith, added: “Looking at her now you wouldn’t even know what she had been through.
“She’s really becoming her own person.
"She’s always giggling, is just so chilled and always chattering away. She’s amazing.”
Rob and Natasha are now hoping to give back by supporting Leeds based children's cancer charity Candlelighters.