By Andy Hirst

Last Mother’s Day Jen Ramsden had no inkling of the way her family life would change beyond all recognition.

Within a month her youngest daughter, Eden, was diagnosed with a serious cancer and the entire Huddersfield community has since rallied round the Holmfirth family to fund vital treatment in the USA.

Eden was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in April 2021, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer that has a 40% to 50% chance of long-term survival at diagnosis and affects fewer than 100 children in the UK every year. Scans and tests showed the cancer was located in seven places around Eden’s body.

She has completed gruelling chemotherapy, undergone a major operation and had stem cell treatment with radiotherapy and immunotherapy to follow in the coming months. To prevent the cancer returning Eden will then need Bivalent Vaccine treatment which is now only available in New York and the earliest she’d probably be able to go would be this summer.

The estimated cost is between £320,000 and £340,000 and a magnificent fundraising effort – including a huge sponsored walk and a pink day to mark Eden’s 7th birthday – has put the total in sight.

Eden lives with Jen, dad Lee Smith and nine-year-old sister Tia in Wooldale. Today is mother’s day and 47-year-old Jen, said: “I always wanted to be a mum. I yearned for two girls and they are both so wonderful. Yes, it can be tough, but it’s the best job in the world.

“I love providing for them, putting them first, making their meals and ensuring the home is just right for them.”

Eden with sister Tia and mum and dad Lee and Jen when she returned to school on her ‘pink’ birthday. Pix by: SEAN DOYLE

Jen said with all the endless medical treatment Eden has endured it would have been so easy for her and Lee to have completely spoiled Eden and given in to her every whim.

But they’ve not done so and feel that’s also better for Eden.

Jen said: “We make sure both Eden and Tia have everything they need, but not necessarily everything they want. We’ve not spoiled them and that’s why I think Eden has stayed such a rounded little girl despite everything she’s been through. We treat them the same and try to keep everything as normal as possible even though life has become so abnormal for us as a family.

“We have always been a close-knit family and when something as traumatic as this happens it can make a family closer or possibly drive them apart.

“For us, we can still all laugh together. I feel so privileged to have spent so much time with Eden over the last 11 months but so guilty that I often wasn’t there for Tia yet there was no way round it. Tia has been so brave through all of this – she and Eden are really close – but at times it does get to her and that’s when we have extra cuddles.

“Eden has been so strong and Lee has held everything together. It’s been such a bizarre experience. Eden is desperate to go back to school but can’t at the moment until at least after Easter. We are so ready for some kind of return to normality.”

Tia and Eden play scientists trying to find a cure for cancer

On Mother’s Day the thing she looks forward to most are the homemade cards from the girls.

Tia said: “Mother’s Day is extra important this year because mum has been away for so many nights with Eden.”

The sisters are very close and Tia has missed Eden so much when she’s had to spend so many weeks in hospital – with more to come.

Tia said: “Eden is so loveable and it’s great to have her back home again.”

Jen and 47-year-old Lee were due to get married but that has been postponed twice – the first time because of the covid pandemic and the second time due to Eden’s illness.

Jen said: “Tia has joked that when Lee and I get married then I’ll finally be part of the family. Bless her! Eden and I have only been apart four nights since last April despite all she’s been through.”

Eden had to undergo extensive chemotherapy before she had major surgery at LGI on December 15. Medics warned the operation would be at least six hours but, in the end, it was nine – and those last three hours were especially agonising for Lee and Jen.

Jen and Eden are incredibly close – especially since the diagnosis. In January Eden underwent high dose chemo and stem cell transplant and had to spend five weeks in a hospital room at Leeds General Infirmary with Jen constantly by her side day and night – apart from Saturday nights.

That’s when Lee took over and did a 24-hour stint to give Jen a break.

Eden said: “Mummy is now my best friend and I’m happy to have spent so much time with her because I love her.”

Jen, a teacher, said: “There have been so many ‘what ifs’ along the way and if any of them had been different we may not have had Eden still with us. The worst thing that can ever happen to a parent is to lose a child and we feel we’ve nearly lost Eden several times. I can’t even start to put that feeling into words.

“Eden has lost so much weight during the treatment that I can still carry her around under one arm. She has lost her hair twice during the chemo which makes her seem even thinner and has a wig but has only worn it twice. She’s not bothered.”

The family’s nightmare began last April when Eden began complaining that her legs hurt and she’d wake up crying with the pain which would often fade during the day. At first this was put down to growing pains.

But when Eden was sent home twice from school because she’d turned drip white and shivering, Jen decided to take her to casualty at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and, after an X-ray showed nothing up, Eden was referred to Calderdale Royal Hospital for MRI and CT scans. The doctor told Jen they didn’t normally let dads visit but it would be OK for Lee to go to see Eden at 2pm and that’s when Jen first began to get worried.

When Lee arrived they were told it was cancer and all Jen can remember is saying ‘no’. Only when they were sent to Leeds General Infirmary were they told it was neuroblastoma and there would be some very tough days ahead during lengthy treatment.

Jen said: “If I’d not taken Eden to A&E the cancer could well have gone undiagnosed and she would possibly not be here now. There have been so many of these ‘what ifs’ along the way and that thought really scares me to the point of making me feel physically sick.

“Eden is doing so well at the moment but I’m really scared all that could change. When she was in LGI we had two really horrible moments – one when she was sick and just blood came out and another time when we couldn’t wake her up and she needed an emergency CT scan. In the end it was down to her anti-sickness medication.”

Eden and Lee. Pic by: SEAN DOYLE

The next hurdle for Eden is radiotherapy five days a week at St James’ Hospital in Leeds for three weeks which began last Monday (March 21).

Jen said: “She’ll be in a room by herself and I’ll be just outside but we’ll each be holding one end of a piece of string so we’ll still be connected.”

Eden will then have immunotherapy starting with a 10-day stay in hospital to try to build her immune system back up again after all the cancer treatment.

When Eden goes to the USA only Lee will be with her and they will be away for a month in the first of many trips there for treatment.

Jen said: “I’m absolutely dreading it. I won’t be able to give her that extra kiss at bedtime, watch her sleeping or give her a cuddle. The treatment there may not be as brutal physically but it will be emotionally.”

* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst. Images of Eden’s pink birthday copyright of Sean Doyle.