One final hug

Candice's last birthday brought a terrible gift...

Published by: Rachel Halliwell and Sarah Veness
Published on: 25 August 2011

Bargain Hunt, Loose Women, Jeremy Kyle flashed across the screen as my daughter flicked through the telly and groaned.
‘I hope I’m better for my holiday,’ she moaned, handing me the remote. ‘See if you can find anything decent.’
‘There’s nothing on,’ I sighed. ‘And you’ll be fine, although I’m still sulking. You’re abandoning us on your birthday again!’
‘You don’t mind me going, do you?’ she asked.
‘Of course not,’ I smiled. ‘I still can’t believe my little girl, who refused to go on sleepovers because she missed home, is going away for a week though.’
In less than two months, Candice was jetting off to Las Vegas to celebrate her 26th birthday. At the moment, though, we were both fighting off a tummy bug.
Over the next few days, I got back on my feet, but Candice was still tired. She even cancelled the performing arts workshop she ran for children on a Saturday morning.
Candice dreamed of starring in the West End – that’s why for her birthday me and her dad Stephen, 53, would normally take her to see a musical. Until the day she trod those boards though, she ran the weekly workshop and was training to be a teacher.
Not that she was well enough to work at the moment. Even a week later, she was still feeling too rough.
‘I’m going back to the doctor,’ she groaned. ‘I can’t miss another Saturday, the kids are relying on me.’
The doctor thought she had a virus. ‘He says I’ll be better in a few days,’ she croaked.
But three days later, she was complaining her muscles felt stiff and she had permanent pins and needles in her feet. 
I went back to the doctor with her and, this time, he sent her to the hospital for more tests. They diagnosed her straight away.
‘You’re suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome,’ the hospital doctor explained. ‘When you were ill, your immune system mistakenly started attacking your nervous system.’
‘Am I going to be okay?’ she worried. ‘Only it’s my birthday in three weeks, and I’m off to Vegas.’
‘It causes temporary paralysis, which is why you’re getting pins and needles,’ he said. ‘It’ll get worse before it gets better, but you’ll make your holiday.’
Over the next few days, Candice’s legs grew weaker and soon she was in a wheelchair.
‘I feel like that Little Britain character,’ she giggled, flashing patients her trademark smile while I pushed her around the ward. Before long, she was bed-bound and unable to move her arms. Her beam never faltered, though.
‘They said it would get worse before it got better,’ I assured Stephen and our other daughter Cheryl, 32.
‘I’ll be fine,’ smiled Candice. ‘I’m going to start raising awareness about this condition too. Do you know only 1,500 people in the UK get it every year?’
A few days more, though, and she could barely say her name, let alone spout facts and figures.
I could tell it was frustrating for her, especially for someone who was forever singing show tunes.
Still, that smile never left her face, especially when her dad visited. ‘This is one way of getting out of packing,’ he teased.
‘I know it’s tough,’ I smiled, brushing her hair out of her eyes. ‘But just think about your birthday.’
It was only one week away, but Candice seemed determined to get better for it. Slowly, she started to get some movement back. 
‘Look,’ she croaked, bending a knee three weeks after being admitted. ‘You’ll be climbing on that plane in no time,’ I beamed.
But the next day, Candice started struggling for breath. ‘We need to put you on a ventilator,’ the doctor said, as I held her hand.
‘Don’t leave me,’ she mouthed.
‘I’ll be back the second they’ve done it,’ I said – the medics had asked us to step out just while they fitted the ventilator.
Stephen and I waited outside.
A few minutes passed, then a nurse raced over to us.
‘Candice has had a cardiac arrest,’ she panted.
‘Is she okay?’ panicked Stephen.
‘She’s unconscious, the next 24 hours are critical,’ she said gently.
Steeling myself, I sat at her bedside and took her hand.
‘Hey, you’ve given us a scare,’ I whispered. ‘It’s your birthday in a week, you’d better be home for it.’
For the next six days, I slept beside Candice, helping the nurses bathe her. Before I knew it, her big day had arrived – and I hoped it would be a double celebration. They were going to see if Candice could breathe without the ventilator.
Stephen and I brought in cup cakes for the nurses. ‘For Candice’s birthday,’ I smiled, handing them out. ‘We’ll celebrate properly when she wakes up.’
I spent the rest of the day in bed cuddled up to the birthday girl, singing show tunes to her with Stephen and Cheryl by my side.
At 10pm, the doctor came to see us. ‘It’s time,’ he said quietly.
I nodded and hugged my girl that little bit tighter as the machine was switched off. ‘Come on, love,’ I urged. ‘Wake up for me.’
Her chest rose… then it stilled. ‘N-no, no,’ I sobbed, holding her tighter. ‘Don’t leave me.’ 
‘Oh God,’ Stephen wept next to me. ‘My baby!’ Candice would never get to celebrate her 26th, would never visit Las Vegas…
She was gone.
Instead of helping plan for her future, I was planning her funeral.She had a horse and carriage, and I had keyrings with her photo on made for everyone.
‘You’re the star you always wanted to be,’ I whispered, running my hand over her coffin.
A year on, I ache to see Candice’s smile one more time. Instead, I’m bringing smiles to other people’s faces by funding a drama workshop at the school where she worked. 
I’ve also set up the Candice Roberts Foundation to help 
raise awareness of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
I know that’s what she’d have wanted, and I hope she’s smiling up there in heaven. 
• For more information, visit and
Karen Roberts, 52, Appleton, Warrington