As a grant officer at a charity supporting people working in education, every day I hear stories of individuals facing tough times and difficult conditions. But when I was contacted by primary school teacher, Gail, in February I knew that I had to act – not just because of my job but as a fellow parent.
In May last year Ollie, Gail’s three-year-old son, had started to limp and by September he could barely walk. His parents had been taking Ollie for tests for months and eventually in October 2015 he was diagnosed with tumours in his leg and lesions in his skull caused by a rare form of cancer, Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH).
Three year old Ollie
Ollie is responding well to cancer treatment, but has a long road ahead. Photograph: Education Support Partnership
Ollie was not allowed to put any weight on his leg because the tumour had made his bones weak. He was moved to Great Ormond Street hospital for chemotherapy and also stayed at the Harley Street Clinic, where his room had a big bath in which he loved to have a good old soak and splash, helping to relieve the pain in his leg. Ollie was soon allowed to leave hospital, but has to return for regular steroids tests, blood tests and chemo until at least January 2017.
Ollie was now able to walk a little, but he was still in a lot of pain and required constant care from his parents. To ease his pain he needed regular baths, which meant evening trips to his grandparents’ as his family home only had a shower.
Gail had been given compassionate leave to look after Ollie, but the financial strain was beginning to take its toll. Her trade union suggested she get in touch with us to see if she was eligible for our grants scheme.
When I first spoke to Gail she was worried about money and had extra expenses such as travel costs to and from hospital. She was hopeful that we could help with a grant to cover some of those costs and, importantly, help part-fund a new bathroom to help Ollie rest his painful leg.
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She submitted an articulate and moving grant application, written from Ollie’s perspective, along with all the necessary financial details our charity needed. When I read the application, and as the father of a young son myself, there wasn’t any way I could refuse. I put myself in her shoes and wondered how my family would cope in similar circumstances. Having a bath seems such a simple thing, and knowing that it would make such an immediate and positive impact the least I could do was award our maximum grant of £3,000.
It’s great to know that the grant has really helped this family during a very difficult time. Financial challenges can happen to anyone for all manner of reasons, and that is why my charity exists. The fact that the grant recipient was a little boy who loved a bath made it an extra special application in my eyes.
I wasn’t alone in that feeling; my colleagues at Education Support Partnership were so moved by Ollie’s story that they clubbed together to buy him some new bath toys. Ollie is responding well to his treatment but has a long journey ahead. I wish him the best of luck.