After one of Hannah’s eyes completely closed, a visit in June 2022 to Southampton Eye Hospital confirmed a diagnosis of Rhabdomysosarcoma, a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma (cancer).
Hannah started a 21-day cycle of chemotherapy at Southampton University Hospital before travelling to London in September 2022 to start a six week course of proton beam therapy and chemotherapy at University College London Hospital (UCLH). The hope was that because of the nature of her tumour, this combination of treatment would give Hannah the best prognosis.
Spread a Smile first met Hannah and her Mum Andrea whilst Hannah was receiving treatment at UCLH. Andrea said: “We discovered Spread a Smile whilst waiting for proton beam therapy in the hospital playroom. There was a notice on the wall saying that Spread a Smile would be visiting with a therapy dog, so we asked to change Hannah’s treatment time to coincide with their visit.
“We also met Laura from the charity who explained what Spread a Smile does and how they could support Hannah. Laura was so kind, asking Hannah what she was interested in and listening to her and what she had to say. We realised that Hannah really enjoyed art and so she started weekly art classes in hospital with Abi, one of the Spread a Smile artists. Hannah also loved meeting the magicians and therapy dogs – Buddy, Harry, Thomas and Chocco!
“It was such a good thing for both of us – throwing balls for the dogs, having cuddles, learning magic tricks and creating something in art. Hannah would become very poorly whilst on chemotherapy, so we weren’t allowed home at weekends and spent six weeks away from home and family in London. Meeting Spread a Smile would break up the week and give Hannah (and me) so many moments of laughter, happiness and enjoyment.
“Instead of just turning up at the exact time for our appointments, we would arrive at hospital first thing for when Spread a Smile arrived, so we could spend as much time as possible with them. Hannah didn’t want to miss a thing! It gave her a sense of purpose and meant a huge amount to both of us.
“Spread a Smile also invited us on an outing to afternoon tea at Mildreds restaurant in London – which was brilliant. It was a chance for us to have a day out together, in amongst all the treatment and hospital stuff. We were able to relax and breathe for a while.”
At the end of 2022, Hannah returned back to Southampton to continue chemotherapy, finishing her last rounds in January 2023.
“Since coming home, we are so lucky that Hannah has been able to continue her art classes every other week over Zoom. The classes are a way of her being with other people – friends now – who don’t treat her differently because of her illness. She is Hannah the person, not the illness. She looks forward to the sessions as she is listened to and valued. She has choices and independence which is hugely important when your life feels like it’s controlled by something like cancer.
“Spread a Smile has made a huge difference to Hannah, making life just a bit more manageable.”
Please help ensure we can continue to support young people like Hannah and their families by donating today. Thank you.