For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke to four siblings to get their perspective of how childhood cancer affects families.
In part 1 of a 3-part series, Meg and Beth share the story of their younger sister Eve, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma – a type of bone cancer – in July 2015. Eve sadly died on the 24th June 2017, aged only 11.
Meg and Beth remember exactly where they were when they found out about Eve’s diagnosis.
“It’s one of those moments when time kind of stands still for a second,” says Beth. “It felt like a scene from a film. You hear about these things happening to other people, but you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
While Beth was at home with Eve when she started to feel pain in her hip, Meg was away from home at drama school when she heard the news.
“After Dad called, he came down to Guildford to pick me up and take me home,” she recalls.
“It was when I got back to the house that the emotions hit. I went into Eve’s room, and so many memories flooded back of us growing up together.
The storm of emotions after the news of Eve’s diagnosis were hard to comprehend for Meg too. “It was a big mixture between complete and utter heartbreak and not understanding how to get my head round it. I was also angry, because I knew what a great sister I had, and I was left asking why this had to happen to our family,” she says.
Eve’s treatment started straight away, joining a clinical trial and being put on chemotherapy. Beth and Meg, who are now both actors, were living together in Guildford, and so were away from their family home in Corby during Eve’s treatment.
“Fortunately, we had each other, which made things a little easier,” explains Beth.
“With the whole thing happening while we were away, that did make it quite difficult. But when we were home we’d try and lighten the load for Mum and Dad and share it between us. They could leave Eve with us because they knew we could do the extra things like taking her to the toilet in the middle of the night and making sure she didn’t cry.”
Eve always tried to put a positive spin on what was going on, says Meg. “She even decided to call her tumour ‘Monty’, because she thought ‘tumour’ was a scary word and wanted to make it happy instead.
“In her head it was clear that there was no way this thing was going to beat her. I tried to stay positive, but I think in the back of my head there was always the thought that she might not make it.”
About a year into her treatment, Eve and her family were told the tumour in her hip had gone. Initially this was good news, but it turned out that cancer cells had been growing in her head too, and lumps started to form there shortly after.
“That’s when things started to get really hard,” says Meg.
‘A beautiful smile, then she was gone’
Beth had come home early from college to help her parents and because she knew she probably didn’t have much time left with Eve.
“It was very early that morning and my Mum woke me up because she knew Eve wasn’t right. We contacted all the family members and told them to come over. Thankfully I got to spend that morning with her, which I was so grateful for.”
Meg, still in Guildford, immediately came home to see Eve when she got the call from Beth.
“When I arrived, I couldn’t believe I managed to get there in time. She wasn’t able to speak, but Mum asked if I wanted to spend some time with her. I think I had 10 minutes with her, and she couldn’t talk back, but I knew she could hear me. It was like she waited for me.
“Everyone came back into the room and 2 minutes later she took a breath and her face lit up with this beautiful smile. And then she took one more breath and that was it and she was gone.
“It was such a surreal moment,” says Meg. “And at that point, I remember people telling me they had been heartbroken, but I don’t think you can fully explain. It’s like someone’s physically snapped a piece of your heart off that you’re never going to be able to add back on.”
Coming to terms with loss
It’s taken a long time for both sisters to come to terms with the loss of Eve.
“I was almost numb to it for quite a bit,” says Beth. “It was quite hard to actually let myself understand what happened.
“There have been some real ups and downs. I went to some bereavement counselling sessions and that really helped as well. Because I really do believe it’s better to talk things out. It also helps to be in control and know it’s okay to have those feelings and not always be yourself.”
And Meg tries to use Eve in all aspects of her life.
“If I go to an audition, I’ll talk to her before and say: ‘Hey mate, do you think I’m doing the right thing?’ and just chat. I try to think what she’d do in this situation, and I think she wouldn’t just sit there and do nothing. She’d get on with it.
“There is a part of me still though that thinks I’m going to go back home and she’s going to be sitting there on the couch and I’ll hear her voice or see her face again.”
Looking to the future
Time has helped the sisters get to a point where they’re now ready to look to the future, inspired by their happy sister.
“I actually took some time out of the industry for a bit. Just because I didn’t have the right head to go into an audition. But recently, I kind of think I’ve had a kick up the backside by Eve, just saying ‘go and do what you want to do,’” says Meg.
And Beth agrees: “Eve supported what we do, although I think we sometimes got on her nerves with the singing and dancing!
“We’re realising now you might as well do something that makes you happy. Just go out and enjoy yourselves.”
We would like to thank Meg and Beth for sharing their story and helping raise awareness of cancers that affect children and young adults. If you’ve been affected and need to talk to someone, you can call our nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 or contact them via this online form.