Boy, 8, diagnosed with leukaemia four months after losing mum to breast cancer
A dad who lost his wife to cancer has been left reeling after their eight-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer just four months after her death.
Little Freddie Gittins received his diagnosis on 14 July of this year, after his mum Emma died from breast cancer at just 41 years old in March.
Freddie’s dad Jamie, 40, said: “The news of Freddie’s leukaemia just broke me.
“After going through the worst of cancer with Emma, my first thought was that my son was going to die.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing both of them.”
However, despite battling a horrible illness, Jamie says his son is a “warrior” who would have made his mum proud.
When Emma was alive, she wrote in a blog, Boobs Behaving Badly, which documented her journey with cancer treatment – and it left a mark on people.
Jamie said: “After she passed away there were so many messages from people saying the blog had helped them through their own diagnosis.
“I knew it had provided a very positive outlook for both Emma and her readers, so I wanted to do the same for Freddie and, over the summer, we set up a blog for him, too, called Fight Said Fred, documenting his cancer journey.”
Emma was first diagnosed with cancer in October 2017 when she was 37 years old. But after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was in remission by August 2018.
During the same year, Jamie and Emma separated, but they continued to co-parent Freddie and their eldest son Noah, now 11. According to Jamie, the pair remained “the best of friends.”
For a few months, Emma was perfectly healthy, but in February 2019 she received the devastating news that her cancer had returned – and it was terminal.
“We’ve always been very honest with the boys about Emma’s diagnosis. We explained to them that the cancer wouldn’t go away this time,” Jamie explained.
“We didn’t want to hide anything from them and, looking back, I’m glad we took this approach. They understood as best they could what was happening to their mum and it’s helping them to grieve.”
On 30th March 2021, Emma passed away surrounded by friends and family in Hereford Hospital
But just three months after her death, Jamie noticed a change in Freddie and took him to see a doctor.
He said: “In June, I noticed that Freddie was really tired all the time – incredibly lethargic. He would come home from school, put on the telly and fall asleep within five minutes.
“By July, I noticed he was getting a yellow tinge to his skin, so I booked a doctor’s appointment and they sent us straight to hospital.
“We were there all night while Freddie had tests done and, at around 1am, a doctor took me off into a private room to explain the results.”
On 14 July, Freddie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – an aggressive cancer of the white blood cells.
Jamie said: “I was expecting the doctor to say it was a liver infection, so when I heard leukaemia, I just broke down.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Freddie. We had just buried his mum and now I was panicking that I would also have to bury my son.
“We had barely had any time to process losing Emma before we were back on cancer wards, this time for Freddie.”
Jamie said one of the most difficult things was to tell his son what was wrong with him.
He said: “Freddie was asleep in the hospital bed when I found out. I just sat by his side all night, watching him sleep.
“When he woke up in the morning, I explained to him that he had cancer and would need to have treatment. I told him he was going to have a terrible few months, but he would get better.
“When he heard the word cancer, he asked me, ‘Like Mummy?’ So, I explained that it was a different type, but that it was cancer, too.”
After explaining the heartbreaking news to Freddie, Jamie also had to tell Noah about his little brother’s diagnosis.
He said: “Noah came to see Freddie in Hereford Hospital.
“I repeated what I’d told Freddie to Noah. He’s a lot older than his years and he understood.
“I explained to him that chemotherapy would make Freddie better. Noah turned around and said ‘we know what it’s like now’.”
Jamie said Freddie took after his courageous mum and showed incredible strength after his diagnosis.
Jamie said: “We spent two weeks at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, because his liver and pancreas were inflamed. Once that was under control, Freddie started chemotherapy.
“Nothing has really fazed him. He’s been ridiculously brave. He’s such a warrior.
“He only really got upset when he realised he would lose his hair, because he loves his hair.
“Other than that, he has pretty much accepted all the treatment that has been thrown at him. He’s so resilient.”
So far, Freddie’s progress scans have showed that the level of cancer in his blood is continuing to decline – and the family is hopeful he’ll soon be given the all-clear.
Jamie said: “There is now only a tiny trace of leukaemia in his system, so we’re giving that a final kick with chemo and, hopefully, that will mark the end of Freddie’s treatment.
“After that, he will be monitored, regularly at first but then routinely for the rest of his life to make sure it doesn’t come back.
“I think all three of us are very excited for that day, so that we can start to heal properly and enjoy our future.”
Reflecting on a rollercoaster few years for the family, Jamie thinks it’s hit Noah the hardest.
“He’s felt quite helpless, whereas both Freddie and I have been kept busy with the medical appointments.
“We’re looking forward to a bit of normality in the future, though.”
As well as running the blog, the family set up a GoFundMe page to help Jamie pay for fun experiences and activities for Freddie.
He said: “I was quite overwhelmed by the fundraising page, as I’m not one to ask for help, but Freddie really deserves some fun after what have been a horrible couple of years – both the boys do.
“Freddie loves wrestling and is obsessed with WWE right now, so we went to see it in Birmingham a few weeks ago.
“It will be nice to create some happy memories with the boys and continue to plan outings like this in the future.”
Jamie hopes the blog can show people that positive things can come from a bad situation.
And Jamie hopes that through Freddie’s blog they can show people that positive things come out of a bad situation.
He said: “Finding out your child has cancer is every parent’s worst nightmare come true.
“It’s completely devastating, but I want to get across to people that life doesn’t just stop when you receive that diagnosis. It’s not all bad.
“We’ve had some fun times in hospital, laughing and spending time together as a family, both when Emma was a patient and now with Freddie. You have to make the most of what you have and you have to find a way to keep going.
“Being a parent of a child with cancer can be a very isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be either. There is a community of people in the same situation online.
“Emma left such a positive legacy with her blog and I’m proud that we can carry that on now with Freddie’s.”