Quest of a poorly princess

She was just two, but my Ava had a special mission

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 7 March 2013

Pulling some clothes out of the drawer, I smiled at my daughter Ava who was sitting on her bed cuddling her favourite teddy Billy Bear.
‘Time to get dressed,' I said.
‘No,' she yelped.
‘Well, what do you want to wear then?' I groaned.
‘I'm a princess,' two-year-old Ava beamed.
‘Of course you are,' I smiled.
Ava loved dressing up and she had a whole chest of different outfits. But the princess costumes were always her favourite. She was constantly twirling around the house in her costumes with Billy Bear, only stopping to give her five-month-old brother Aston a cuddle.
But later that day, I noticed she wasn't her usual self.
‘My belly hurts,' she grumbled as I sat feeding Aston.
‘Come here,' I said. But as she lay across my lap, I noticed that the left side of her tummy looked quite swollen.
‘Does it hurt there?' I asked. She nodded quietly.
Pressing it with my fingers, her tummy did feel strange - as if there was a lump under her skin. Worried, I told my hubby Chris, 35, about it.
The next morning, I took her to see the GP.
‘I think she's just a bit constipated,' he said.
But a few days later, Ava came into my room and started wriggling about on the floor in tears.
Instinct told me something was seriously wrong, so I took her to A&E. There, a doctor sent her for an ultrasound. By the time Chris arrived, the results were back.
‘There's a mass attached to her kidney,' the doctor told us.
‘Okay,' we nodded. But neither of us really understood what that meant.
Ava was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Once there, the doctors mentioned a tumour. But even then it didn't click with us what was wrong.
Then, I heard one of the doctors use a terrifying word - cancer.
‘Cancer?' I gasped.
Grabbing a doctor, I pulled him aside so Ava wouldn't hear.
‘B-but... I didn't realise,' I stammered.
It suddenly clicked. Me and Chris had been so naive. I saw exactly where we were for the first time... Standing in a cancer ward.
‘We believe it's a Wilms' tumour, a type of cancer that affects the kidney,' the doctor explained.
I felt numb. Looking across at Chris, I could tell that he felt the same. We were too shocked to cry.
Ava needed chemotherapy before the tumour could be removed. And she had to have a Hickman line put into her chest so the drugs could be delivered.
‘I notice how fond Ava is of her bear,' one of the nurses smiled. ‘Maybe we could do it to him, too.'
So the nurses attached a tube to Billy Bear.
When Ava had a blood test, the nurses gave him a pretend one, too.
A few days later, Ava began chemo at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I played her favourite DVDs to pass the time or read her books about children with cancer. They explained what cancer was in simple terms.
‘Lots of people get a sick tummy?' she asked, her eyes wide.
‘Yes, but the doctors' have special medicine,' I said.
After a month of chemo, it was time for Ava to have surgery to remove the tumour. Her beautiful blonde hair had started falling out, so I took her to the hospital's hairdresser and asked her to shave everything off.
Later, me and Chris kissed her goodbye and tucked Billy Bear under her arm.
‘You're both going to see the sleepy doctor,' I explained.
We then paced the floors of a nearby coffee shop as we waited.
Eight hours later, the operation was finished. There were so many tubes sticking out of Ava's body.
Ava's left kidney had been removed along with the tumour, and 18 lymph nodes that the cancer had spread to. The tumour was huge, weighing nearly 2lb.
‘It was the size of a small head,' the nurse explained to us.
A small head... I felt sick thinking about something that big growing inside her.
A few days on, the physiotherapist carried Ava out of bed and put her on a chair.
‘Lets try some stretching exercises,' she said.
But Ava wasn't interested.
‘Maybe I should bring Aston in to cheer her up,' I said.
The next day, as soon as I walked in with her brother, her eyes lit up.
Five minutes later, she'd sat up in bed and was chattering away.
Soon, she surprised us again.
‘I want to get up, Mummy,' she said. ‘Can you get my shoes?'
She was wobbly at first, but a few minutes later, she'd taken five steps. It felt like a little victory!
‘You've done so well,' I grinned. ‘I think you deserve a special treat.'
Ava looked very serious as she thought about what she wanted.
‘A pink party!' she suddenly said. ‘For when I'm all better.'
I volunteered at a local nightclub and they offered their venue and staff for free. I then sold 500 tickets in less than 48 hours.
A month later, the big day arrived. I dressed Ava in a pink tutu, trainers, leggings, and, of course, a tiara. ‘I'm a princess again!' she smiled at me.
With a disco and a raffle, the party was brilliant and we raised £5,000 for charity.
Spurred on by the success of the party, I've set up a website called Ava's Pink Quest, to help raise more money for the cause.
Ava's going to kick cancer's butt, I told supporters. She's taking on the battle like all princesses should - with style, flair, stubbornness and determination.
Four months on, we've raised nearly £12,000 for the Children's Cancer and Leukemia Group charity and for the hospitals where Ava was treated. And we still have more fund-raising events planned.
Ava is still having chemo, which will hopefully prevent the cancer returning. She still has a way to go, but when I see her dancing around the house in her fairy tale costumes, I feel a surge of hope. If anyone can beat this tumour, it's my brave little princess.

• To donate to Ava's Pink Quest, visit

Kerry McCarthy, 32, Harlow, Essex