A deadly illness had come for Jane's little girl. But in this dance - off, cancer doesn't have a hope ...
Lily’s cancer dance-off
An ‘ahhhh’ blew from my lips, followed by an excited ‘ooohhh’. Louise Redknapp was drifting across the dance floor like a cloud across the sky. She was a vision in chiffon and sequins, in perfect hold in the arms of Kevin from Grimsby…
‘Look at me, Mummy!’ my daughter, Lily, cried.
Lily was matching Louise step-by-glittering-step, gliding across our living-room carpet, holding a cushion for a dancing partner! And, as always, she took my breath away, too.
‘You’d definitely get a 10 from Len,’ I cheered.
Saturday night was Strictly Come Dancing night in our house and I expect it’s the same in your house, too. But are you raising a future star of the show? I knew I was.
My Lily was only nine, yet her bedroom gleamed with over 80 dance trophies and 100 medals. She’d been dance-mad since joining majorettes, aged two.
Next was ballet, freestyle, disco, modern…
Until now, she was training for 30 hours every week.
She had a wardrobe to rival Tess and Claudia’s, bulging with dresses that could cost £2,000 a time! It was a lot of money for some stretchy material, rhinestones and feathers, so I’d often buy them second-hand for £300, and dryclean the fake tan marks out.
All the make-up and woodstain… sorry, fake tan... cost a pretty wodge, too. But I didn’t begrudge a penny of it for my talented girl.
‘Bruno’s so funny,’ she was giggling now.
We were glued to the series until it climaxed with Ore Oduba and Kevin’s sister, Joanne Clifton, lifting the Glitterball at Christmas.
Four months on, Lily was climbing into her own favourite blue-feathered gown to compete in a tap and ballet competition. I predicted another bit of silverware, and I was right.
But as we drove home, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Lily rubbing her left shoulder. ‘You OK?’ I frowned.
‘It’s sore,’ she winced.
‘It’ll be all that effort you put in,’ I told her. ‘You’ve probably pulled something.’
She didn’t seem that bothered. All she could think about was whether she would get an audition for the prestigious Scottish Ballet School.
We’d hear any day now…
But that night, Lily came into my room.
‘My shoulder’s really sore, can I sleep with you?’ she moaned. I’d split with her dad, Scott Robertson, 47, when I was pregnant with her. So it was just me, Lily and her big brother, Leon, who’d moved out.
‘Come here,’ I smiled, pulling the duvet back. Then I put my hand on her shoulder… and felt a lump.
It was about 10cm big, and hadn’t been there earlier.
A bad sprain? Had to be. My mum, Mary, took Lily to the doctor the next day while I was at my job as a manager at Primark.
She called to say Lily had to go for a scan the following day. ‘I’ll take her,’ she said.
But by 3pm the next day,
I still hadn’t heard from Mum. So I rang her.
‘The doctor wants to see you,’ she said, sounding weird. ‘Why?’ I asked.
‘They just do,’ she insisted. So I raced straight to the hospital. When I arrived, Lily glided up the corridor towards me. ‘Watch this!’ she smiled, spinning around in a perfect pirouette. ‘You’ve made use of the hanging around,’ I laughed. I found the doctor and he led me into a side ward. ‘We think Lily could have a tumour in her shoulder,’ he said. ‘That’s what’s causing the lump and pain.’ I blinked, hard. ‘OK, so you’ll just remove it?’ I asked. Considering he’d just said the word ‘tumour’, I wasn’t panicked. Lily was so fit, they’d just take it out, and that’d be the end of it… ‘Let’s wait until we know for sure,’ he told me. Outside, Lily was still jigging about. I tried to smile but it was frozen.
Surely it couldn’t be cancer?
Four days later, me and Lily’s dad took her to a specialist children’s hospital in Edinburgh.
As we followed the corridors, I saw beds filled with children. Some had no hair. Suddenly, I felt sick.
From glitter, hairspray and lipgloss… to this?
Lily had biopsies and a lumbar puncture. She was so brave. But the news was the worst it could be.
‘I’m afraid Lily has stage four Ewing’s sarcoma,’ the doc said. ‘It started in her left leg, and has spread to her shoulder and lungs.’
A scream roared inside me. It came out as, ‘Noooo! Save her.’
I wasn’t stupid. I knew what stage four meant. Next stage? Death…
Scott was sobbing. ‘Our intention is to cure her,’ the doctor assured us. ‘Do you want the staff here to tell Lily?’
‘This is my job,’ I sniffed. Back at her bed, I held her hand.
‘Why are you crying?’ she frowned.
‘You know how I said you might have cancer,’ I whispered. ‘Do I?’ she asked.
‘Yes, but you’re going to be fine.’ ‘Will I lose my hair?’ she choked. Her long blonde hair was her pride and joy – we’d do French plaits, high ponytails and backcombing for competitions. ‘And what about my dancing?’ I tried to hold back a tear. ‘Sweetheart, you’ll feel poorly and need to rest,’ I told her. But she couldn’t understand.
She’d faced so many battles on the dance floor – but this was the one she had to win.
The following day, it was even more heartbreaking when we got the call that Lily had won an audition to the ballet school.
‘You won’t be able to go,’ I told her. ‘But you will, one day.’ And everyone was so kind. Lily’s dance school arranged a weekend in London for her.
We went to meet the cast of the smash-hit musical, 42nd Street.
They welcomed her on to the stage and even did a little dance routine with her.
My eyes were full of tears. We visited two more musicals – Matilda and Mamma Mia! – then on to the famous Pineapple Dance studios.
There, waiting with a pile of goodies, was the ex- Strictly Come
Dancing judge, Arlene Phillips! ‘Is Craig really as moody in real life?’ Lily asked her. ‘He’s a big softie at heart,’ Arlene smiled. ‘Now, I know you’re a huge Strictly fan – so keep dancing!’
It made Lily’s year. But then it was home to chemo…
Her sparkle dimmed, but it refused to go out.
‘Let me show you a routine,’ Lily told the nurses. ‘She’s a fighter,’ they gasped. On day nine, her dance school came to visit, and Lily couldn’t resist joining them for a show. To see the smile on her face – and the other patients’ faces – was spellbinding.
But on Lily’s second course of chemo, her long hair started to fall out. ‘I wish it wouldn’t,’ she trembled. In the end, we had it shaved off. We got Lily a wig, and she spent ages in her room getting used to herself in it.
But on her first day back at dance school, she chucked it on to the floor.
‘Too itchy,’ she grimaced. From then on, it was Bald Lily. Who even noticed, when she had a smile more dazzling than any glitterball?
‘She’s always dancing in front of the mirror,’ I fretted to her doctor. ‘Should she be resting?’
‘Why stop her?’ he shrugged. ‘She’ll obviously dance her way to a cure.’ Now, it’s been four months since her diagnosis. Next step, death? Not a bit of it. The medics rate her chances of survival at just 15-30 per cent, but it’ll never be curtains for my star. Curtains up, more likely. We’ve just found out, after endless biopsies and scans, that she doesn’t have a tumour in her leg – it’s a fracture! Lily had been dancing on a broken leg for 30 hours a week, and never complained. That’s how strong she is. She’ll need some of her shoulder bone removed once she’s finished her 14 rounds of chemo.
But only last month, Lily and her friend won a world title at the United Dance Organization World Street Championships in Glasgow! Arlene Phillips still messages to see how she is. And we’ve recently started watching the latest series of Strictly.
We’re rooting for Ruth Langsford and Aston Merrygold. When we went to London, we were due to go to the This Morning studios, but ran out of time. Instead, Ruth sent Lily a lovely signed photo, so she’s our fave! We’re even getting tickets from the Les Hoey charity to see the Strictly tour in February.
And as for Lily – she has danced her way into the hearts of so many people, celebs and ordinary folk alike.
She is strictly the bravest little person I’ll ever know. And when it comes to beating this horrible thing? She’s a perfect 10…
Her sparkle dimmed but refused to go out
She danced her way into the hearts of everyone Lily and her friends after winning a dance contest
I’m so proud of my little dance star! Lily was so happy to meet former Strictly judge Arlene My dance-mad daughter is a perfect 10!