By Carmel Hayes
THE mother of a six-year-old girl who died after treatment for brain cancer says her daughter left “an incredible legacy”.
Emma Edghill from Portarlington was just three years old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She died just over two months before her seventh birthday.
Although her family’s pain will never fully heal, Billie Edghill says her daughter’s incredible spirit and courage throughout her illness left an extraordinary legacy, which will live on and always brighten their darkest days.
The mother of five says, “The legacy Emma left is one I hope to leave. She handled it like a soldier and always smiled through it all. She was a ray of sunshine and brightened up anyone’s day with her smile.
“She liked to wear a hat but she never tried to hide her bald head. She just accepted everything. Even when she was in intensive care, with an oxygen mask on her face, she always smiled.
As the family prepares to celebrate Emma’s birthday this month, Billie is calling on people to support Laois’ first-ever Relay For Life, which will be held at Emo Court from July 23-24.
The event will welcome teams of walkers and supporters from across the department, who will come together to help fight cancer. For 24 hours, Relay For Life will celebrate cancer survivors, remember those who have been lost and raise awareness of the services of the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) locally and nationally.
The largest cancer fundraising initiative in the world, Relay For Life is held in many other counties, but this is the first time it has traveled to Laois. The motto of the event is “Support the Fighters, Admire the Survivors, Honor the Victims and Never Lose Hope”.
It will be a sad but also uplifting day for Billie, her husband Lem Edghill and their children Lexie (13), LJ (11) and twins Ellie and Lacey (9), as they honor Emma’s memory at Emo Court.
A former student at Sandy Lane NS in Portarlington, Emma was just three and a half when she started suffering from severe headaches which made her feel nauseous. She frequently woke up in the middle of the night to fall ill, with severe pain in the back of her head.
After a CT scan at Portlaoise Hospital revealed a brain tumour, she was transferred to Temple Street Children’s Hospital, where she had just a 25 per cent chance of survival after a full diagnosis. Surgery was not an option due to the location of the tumor.
The little girl received intensive chemotherapy at Crumlin Children’s Hospital for around a year, followed by seven weeks of radiotherapy at St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin. Since she couldn’t wear a mask at the time, she had to be sedated during radiation therapy.
Billie recalls: “She was asleep five days a week for seven weeks. When she woke up, she was still smiling through it all.
After treatment, another scan showed the tumor had shrunk enough to allow surgery, which was carried out in Temple Street. Then came the wonderful news that Emma was cured of cancer, shortly before her fifth birthday. It later turned out that he had less than two years to live.
The June bank holiday weekend is always very difficult for Emma’s family. On a bank holiday Monday in 2014, she was extremely ill at a birthday party for the twins and Lexie. After a CT scan at Portlaoise Hospital, she was given an on-call escort to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, fearing her lungs were on the verge of collapse.
After an agonizing wait, as Emma received critical treatment in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, the terrible news arrived that chemotherapy had led to end-stage pulmonary fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs. She died on June 25, 2014.
Billie recalls: “We were with Emma when she took her last breath and went to heaven at 1.05am. She would have been seven on September 1.
Originally from Philadelphia, Billie first came to Ireland for a year but stayed permanently after meeting her future husband, who repairs forest machines at a business in Emo. They have lived in Portarlington for 15 years.
Billie has a very deep faith in God which, along with Emma’s exceptional heritage of spreading joy in the worst of times, has helped her through the devastating pain of loss.
She says, “I have peace, because I always felt that God was going to use Emma’s story to help someone else and that her short life had a purpose. She did what she was supposed to do in her six years on earth and I don’t question that, no matter how hard it is. She would have had no quality of life if she had lived, which also helped us to let her go.
For anyone going through similar pain, Billie’s advice is, “Don’t give up and don’t let it ruin the relationships you have, because it will eventually get easier. The pain never really goes away, but your heart heals.
The family invites people to support Relay For Life, whether as a team or simply to offer support and encouragement throughout the day. Billie says, “We’re all in this together, whether it’s people who have lost someone to cancer or who are cancer survivors themselves. I know there will be an amazing and uplifting atmosphere that day so take the walk if you can or even just go for it.
The event will include a Survivor Lap of Honor and Cancer Survivor Lawn Tea on Saturday July 23 at Emo Court. The Survivors’ Lap is an inspiring start to the day, when cancer survivors of all ages are invited to begin the relay by walking the first lap of the course, encouraged by family, friends, caregivers and community teams.
For more information send an e-mail [email protected]or contact Caroline on 087 4499903 or Alan on 086 1222227.