"She refused to talk to, or even look at, the nurses and doctors in fear they would hurt her."

Meet Penelope! 

She is a very strong and determined seven-year-old who adores messy play and all things craft-related. She lives at home with her older sister, mum and dad.

At the age of three, Penelope was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). The discovery turned the family's life upside down. 

On the night of her diagnosis, she was completely traumatised whilst she was pinned down for blood tests.  

“After Penelope’s frightening first night, she refused to talk to, or even look at, the nurses and doctors in fear they would hurt her," explained her mum, Athena.

"The following morning we were taken by ambulance to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and admitted onto Elephant ward. We stayed there for two weeks whilst her port was fitted, a bone marrow aspirate taken and then the chemotherapy began on the Friday, so just two days from diagnosis. 

"She was diagnosed as high risk due to her white blood cell count so she was put onto a slightly more intense regimen of chemo."

“Play means smiling and not worrying.”

There were, fortunately, the right hospital play workers on hand to help Penelope through her frightening journey.

"A very kind health play specialist explained to Penelope that if she ever saw a purple top, to know they were only there to play! 

"No needles and no medicine. This was a huge step for Penelope to understand how play was going to be part of her new life in hospital.

“Starlight have been an amazing resource for us. Penelope often needs distracting while being prepared for surgery and chemotherapy, and the play team’s box of Starlight toys have been a massive help!"

The whole family have joined our new Community Health Play Services Pilot, taking part in sessions at London Zoo with other families that we support through challenging times.

“We feel really happy at the sessions, making lots of slime and we’ve made new friends, and got to feed the cutest monkeys! We think it’s important to play and have fun with our family, play means smiling and not worrying," said Penelope and her sister, Florence.

“The sessions help us to spend time as a family doing things we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do," Athena said. 

"Play allows children to express how they are feeling. Play instantly became the most important tool for Penelope whilst in hospital - it was a distraction from the needles and medicine."

Penelope has responded well to her treatment and the hope for her future is that she will remain happy, healthy and cancer free.


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