Our elf Max makes us all smile…

When Mandy Pedelty, 42, from durham, was at her low­est ebb, some­one very spe­cial brought hope back into her life...

Pick Me Up! - - CONTENTS -

Each day brought new ter­ror, a fear our son wouldn’t make it

The jaunty strains of Jin­gle Bells floated down the hos­pi­tal cor­ri­dor. A choir was vis­it­ing a nearby ward, try­ing to bring a bit of fes­tive joy to the poorly chil­dren there.

Oc­ca­sion­ally I’d hear the bang of a cracker, or the laugh­ter of a child.

Happy sounds to match the twin­kling tin­sel and glit­ter­ing baubles that fes­tooned the cor­ri­dors and wards.

Christ­mas was nearly upon us. Only, the ju­bi­la­tion seemed mis­placed here on the chil­dren’s can­cer ward of the Royal Vic­to­ria In­fir­mary.

Nurses in Santa hats moved be­tween the beds, try­ing to raise the spir­its of the fam­i­lies cooped up in this hellish sce­nario.

‘Thank you,’ I said, try­ing my best to muster a smile as a nurse handed me a sausage roll.

But the pas­try clogged in my mouth.

It was Christ­mas

2011, and I had all my fam­ily be­side me – my hus­band Trevor, 38, our chil­dren Mol­lie, 12, and Joe, 4, and their grand­par­ents.

They qui­etly ate crisps and cold meats, gaz­ing thought­fully at the presents they’d re­ceived that morn­ing.

And in the mid­dle of the room was our youngest, Max, wires sprout­ing out of him, an oc­ca­sional whim­per seep­ing from his lips. His skin was like crepe pa­per and he seemed to have a con­stant frown.

A few weeks be­fore, he’d had his first birth­day.

Now he was here on the can­cer ward, gripped by leukaemia.

Each day brought us new ter­ror, a fear our son wouldn’t make it through the next day.

And Christ­mas Day would be no dif­fer­ent.

We’d fought from the start with Max, even in the years be­fore he was con­ceived.

You see, we’d suf­fered three dev­as­tat­ing mis­car­riages be­fore he came along.

Max was the mir­a­cle we thought would never hap­pen.

But I fi­nally fell preg­nant with him in Jan­uary 2010.

He was so des­per­ately wanted.

When he was born and we saw his slanted eyes, his flat­tened nose and small mouth, I knew he had Down’s syn­drome.

But it truly didn’t mat­ter to us. He was our son and we would fight for him ev­ery step of the way.

And boy, did we have a fight on our hands.

Hours af­ter Max was born on 10 Septem­ber 2010, we’d been told he could have leukaemia. Con­tract­ing pneu­mo­nia

11 times over the next few months and even devel­op­ing sep­ti­caemia, he’d been so poorly. And then, a month be­fore his first birth­day, Max had fi­nally been di­ag­nosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.

He started chemo­ther­apy straight away.

Dur­ing the treat­ment, Max would scream out in pain – and all we could do was stroke his hand, tell him every­thing would be OK.

But, of course, we had no idea if we could keep that prom­ise. Be­fore we knew it, Christ­mas cards had started ar­riv­ing in the post and I’d been des­per­ately try­ing to re­mem­ber to buy Mol­lie and Joe an Ad­vent cal­en­dar. They’d been stay­ing with my mum and vis­it­ing the hos­pi­tal when they weren’t in school. Trevor and I had tried so hard to di­vide our­selves be­tween the fam­ily, mak­ing sure one of us was al­ways with Max. Mol­lie and Joe were hurt­ing, too. ‘You’re such good chil­dren, I prom­ise next Christ­mas will be dif­fer­ent,’ I’d re­as­sure them. An­other prom­ise I didn’t know if I could keep... I wanted them to have a good time, feel trea­sured, too, even

The mood of the room had been lifted. There were smiles and laugh­ter

though Max was so ill.

But it was tough for ev­ery­one. How could we pos­si­bly cel­e­brate when our boy was suf­fer­ing?

While Trevor stayed with Max one day, I’d rushed out to the shops to buy presents.

See­ing chil­dren Max’s age, look­ing so healthy and ex­cited about Christ­mas, my heart broke.

He should’ve been en­joy­ing the cel­e­bra­tions too.

Yet here we were again, cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas in the chil­dren’s can­cer ward.

Look­ing around at the other fam­i­lies go­ing through the same un­bear­able agony, I was dev­as­tated.

Be­ing on a child’s can­cer ward at Christ­mas is like an ex­clu­sive club no­body wants to be a part of.

‘Do you like your presents?’ I asked Mol­lie and Joe, try­ing my best to keep their spir­its up. They smiled.

‘Yes, Mum,’ Mol­lie said, reaching out for my hand.

The si­lence in that mo­ment was sim­ply ag­o­nis­ing.

No­body knew what to say as we watched Max in pain, of­ten gasp­ing for breath, not even the strong­est painkillers help­ing him.

Dress­ing Max up as an elf, I laid him on my lap and tried to smile.

Gen­tly stroking his head, a clump of hair fell out into my hand.

Right at that mo­ment, on a day that is meant to be the hap­pi­est of them all, the re­al­ity hit.

Burst­ing into tears, I couldn’t bear this any longer.

That’s when the door sud­denly swung open.

We all looked up to see Fa­ther Christ­mas and two kids dressed as elves come bounc­ing into the room, bags of presents swung over their shoul­ders.

I smiled, de­spite every­thing, when one of the elves came straight up to us.

‘I’m Cory, I’m 6. I’ve spent the two last Christ­mases in the can­cer ward,’ a beam­ing lit­tle boy said in a strong Ge­ordie ac­cent.

Santa came over to me, put his arm around me and smiled.

‘Don’t cry. It’s all go­ing to be all right,’ he said, wip­ing a tear away from my cheek.

We felt a warmth and pos­i­tiv­ity we hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced in so long.

‘My name is Steve and these two lads are my iden­ti­cal twins Cory and Cain,’ Santa said, point­ing to his elves.

He ex­plained that Cory had a rare brain tu­mour, with an ex­tremely low sur­vival rate.

Blind in one eye, paral­ysed down one side, he’d fought hard to beat it.

And here he was, de­liv­er­ing hun­dreds of presents to chil­dren with can­cer.

What a su­per­star! I thought. Chat­ting away, we dis­cov­ered we were all avid sup­port­ers of New­cas­tle FC.

As Trevor and Steve cracked up over a footy joke, Cory was talk­ing to Max, and Cain to Mol­lie and Joe.

Sud­denly I re­alised the en­tire mood of the room had been lifted.

There were bright smiles and laugh­ter.

Fi­nally, it ac­tu­ally felt like Christ­mas Day!

Even Max was look­ing up, grin­ning, crin­kling the wrap­ping pa­per of a present.

I sensed that he, too, could feel the un­usual warmth in the room.

They didn’t just give Max a sackful of presents, but there was per­fume and jew­ellery for Mol­lie, Hot Wheels for Joe.

Chat­ting and laugh­ing away, I forgot for a mo­ment the hor­ror of our sit­u­a­tion.

Then the trio were off to the next fam­ily, hand­ing out presents, spread­ing the joy we all so des­per­ately craved.

But their kind na­ture and pos­i­tiv­ity left a mark on us...

Over the next few hours, we tried to laugh and smile, even if it was just silly gig­gles over a cracker joke. We could see it had helped Max – and us – so much.

The next few months were tough, but by May 2012, Max was in re­mis­sion and fi­nally well enough to come home.

Joe and Mol­lie were so happy to be back to­gether with their lit­tle brother.

We chat­ted over the phone to Steve and the boys as much as we could.

And be­fore long, Christ­mas was ap­proach­ing yet again.

‘I want us to help Steve and his boys on the ward,’ I told Trevor, re­mem­ber­ing the joy he’d brought us all.

But Max was still too weak, fight­ing off an in­fec­tion.

Next year... I vowed. And by Christ­mas 2013, Max was well enough to help, although he still needed a wheel­chair.

We were ready to share the Christ­mas joy that had been shared with us.

‘We want to join you, Steve,’ I told him over the phone.

Head­ing back to the hos­pi­tal where so many of our dark­est mem­o­ries re­mained, Max – dressed as an elf – was wheeled into the chil­dren’s ward by Cory.

I cried tears of joy as I watched them both in ac­tion.

‘My name’s Cory and this is my friend Max. We’ve both had can­cer and have brought you a present,’ Cory grinned to the sick kids.

As they handed out gifts, Max was beam­ing away.

I was so proud. See­ing one girl re­ceive a toy dog, her face light­ing up, my heart melted.

She had a se­ri­ous brain tu­mour and it may have been her fi­nal Christ­mas. It brought back mem­o­ries. I un­der­stood the pain. And I knew noth­ing I could say would make it bet­ter for the fam­i­lies.

So I’d give them a hug, a

know­ing smile. I hope that it helped. Since then, Max has been help­ing Cory as much as pos­si­ble, col­lect­ing do­na­tions and gifts from the com­mu­nity.

Ev­ery Christ­mas, our house is filled with toys, or­na­ments, dec­o­ra­tions, toi­letries – all to be taken by Cory to the hos­pi­tal.

We try to see Steve and the boys as much as pos­si­ble, watch­ing New­cas­tle FC to­gether at the weekend!

I tell Cory all the time how much he trans­formed our lives when he walked into the can­cer ward on Christ­mas Day 2011. Now 14, he’s such a cool kid. ‘It’s noth­ing,’ he shrugs. Cory is in re­mis­sion but there’s a chance that his brain tu­mour could re­turn – a day we hope never comes.

Max is also in re­mis­sion but he’ll al­ways have com­pli­ca­tions – a cold could floor him for months, and he’ll be on an­tibi­otics for life.

Now 8, we call him Prince Charm­ing be­cause he makes ev­ery­one smile.

‘We are united by can­cer, but now united for­ever,’ Max smiles, when talk­ing about Cory. This Christ­mas, we’ll be like any other fam­ily, gath­er­ing around the tree, in our Christ­mas PJS, pulling crack­ers...

But we’ll be think­ing about Cory, who’ll be on the chil­dren’s can­cer ward de­liv­er­ing gifts.

And re­mem­ber­ing the Christ­mas Day he changed our lives for­ever.

We call him Prince Charm­ing, as he makes ev­ery­one smile!

Baby Max with Mol­lie and Joe and (right) in hos­pi­tal in 2011

Max and big­hearted Cory on their ward rounds

Happy Christ­mas, from me and Max!

United! Max and the twins Cory and Cain this year

With his daddy

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