The Ella Gracie’s Garden charity has been set up to help support the emotional well being of children and families who have to live and deal with the effects of childhood cancers.
Our first project will be to create a safe place to play outdoors at the Royal Marsden in Surrey.
The most humbling moment for me during my journey with Ella, was how determined the children were, inspite of their illness, to still be children. Seeing how they were thrown into an alien environment and made to deal with situations that would make most adults crumble, made their energy and refusal to be beaten all the more incredible.
My own daughter’s insistence that she wasn’t going to be restricted to a bed and instead to seek out any wheeled toy (usually wheelchairs and the odd commode!) and run off her energy by instigating whacky races through the corridors made me laugh so much. These are joyous memories that I will cherish forever.
Understandably, the corridors of a busy hospital are not the best place to race, so most of these antics were carried out on the weekends when it was less busy. Towards the end, Ella was too weak to run around and play but she still took great delight in watching her little sister learning to skate, although, however hard we tried to sneak off to a place where we thought no-one was watching, we were invariably caught out!
Suddenly, these simple pleasures we once took for granted became so important; not just for the memories but to keep Ella positive and focusd on a return to a normal life.
In this situation, a sense of well being is crucial and plays such an important part in the long road to recovery. The Oak Centre for Children at the Royal Marsden in Sutton is a world-leading cancer centre with incredible facilities and staff who ensure the children get the very best treatment and care, but well being is one of the very few things that medicine cannot provide; it cannot be bottled up or administered through a drip.
There is so much that the centre has to do and it all costs so much, they cannot afford to do everything. So we would like to help. In a currently unused space adjacent to the Children’s Unit, we will create a safe, stimulating and fun outdoor space, where children and parents can go and find some kind of normality in a world bound by regime and uncertainty.
A space, just like your garden at home with toys and swings and footballs and laughter. A place where they can run off their energy when they have it, or simply watch and smile when they don’t.
I’m not forgetting the parents either. Like many parents, I struggled to cope away from our home environment and once Ella was in the playroom or schoolroom or happy sleeping, I needed to go somewhere to talk openly with other parents – or just to sit quietly with my own thoughts. But most importantly, and this is so true of any parent, in any situation, to go somewhere and just be me, away from the stresses and strains simply a parent can bring, without trying to deal with added heartbreak that your child is facing a life threatening illness.
Ultimately, I would like to create a park-like space, off-site, not just for the children and parents but for all the patients and staff at the Marsden – it’s a huge, long-term project but, as the little children of the Marsden have taught me – with determination and courage, anything is possible!
Ella Gracie’s Garden will also be supporting the children’s ward at our local hospital, The Royal Surrey, providing toys and equipment such as televisions and DVD players. And lastly but by no means least, The Chase Hospice in Artington who care for terminally ill children and who provided tremendous support to us during Ella’s last few days.