Twin sisters battle cancer together

Twin sisters from Suffolk are involved in an extraordinary battle against cancer - after being diagnosed within two weeks of each other.

Jonathan Schofield

TO have one child diagnosed with cancer is every parent's worst nightmare.

But to have two, and twin sisters at that, can only cause heartache of unimaginable proportions.

The lives of Emma and Mark Garwood were turned upside when they were told their four-year-old daughter Megan had cancer.

But their pain of seeing Megan rigged up to tubes and undergoing chemotherapy was to be compounded just a week later when doctors diagnosed her twin sister Gracie with the same cancer - Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

For Emma and Mark, who were living in Colchester at the time, the news turned their lives into a “living nightmare''.

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Mrs Garwood, 38, who now lives in High Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, said: “To see both girls in a twin room at Addenbrooke's undergoing the same treatment side by side was an absolute living nightmare. I struggle now just to talk about it without getting upset.

“To be told that two of your three children have cancer is unthinkable and you begin to wonder what you have done to deserve it.”

The horrendous ordeal for the Garwood family began last August when Megan's parents noticed she was tired and looking off colour.

Mrs Garwood said: “We had just come back from holiday and suddenly Megan couldn't walk or do all the usual lively things she normally did.”

The family, who lived in the centre of Colchester at the time, took Megan to their doctor who immediately referred Megan to Colchester General Hospital for further tests.

“It all seems like a dream sequence. I still just assumed she had a bug, you never think anything this bad could happen to you but suddenly a doctor says your daughter has cancer and moments later we are being rushed to Addenbrooke's in an ambulance with all the blue lights flashing. And then at midnight you watch your daughter begin an intense course of chemotherapy.

“The strange thing was that Megan was the only one who wasn't panicking, she seemed to be doing fine - maybe it was the adrenalin.”

As Emma and Mark, 35, who runs a car dealership in Hatfield Peverel, came to terms with the reality of their daughter's diagnosis they were reassured the chances of her twin sister having the same condition were slim.

But those reassurances proved inaccurate when, within a week, Mrs Garwood's sister called to say Gracie, who was staying with Mrs Garwood's parents at the time, seemed tired and unwell.

Mrs Garwood, who has another daughter Martha, aged two, said: “We took Gracie to Addenbrooke's and asked if she could be checked. She thought she was only there to visit her sister but they took one look at her and before we knew it she was moved into the bed next to Megan for treatment.

“From that day we did not leave the hospital for nine weeks. It was heartbreaking, all Gracie kept saying was 'Mummy, I only came here to visit Megan'. You want to stay positive but I experienced some terrible dark moments when it was difficult not to think the worst.”

Gracie began chemotherapy exactly a week after her sister but as the treatment progressed it was clear neither were responding to the treatment as well as expected.

With their parents sleeping by their childrens' side every night, the twins underwent a more intensive chemotherapy programme but an infection Megan had caught in her back did not respond to drugs.

Surgeons were forced to carry out a major operation to cut out the infection leaving a large hole in Megan's back. The hole was so deep surgeons had to use a special suction pump on the wound to speed up the healing process which Megan carried around in a backpack for ten days.

Thanks to family and friends rallying to help, the family managed to move from Colchester to a cottage in High Rougham during the most intense period of the twins' treatment.

Despite delays in their treatment Gracie, Megan and their parents left Addenbrooke's for their new home in November.

“It felt weird to be in our new home,” said Mrs Garwood. “Our lives had gone through such upheaval but thankfully we had Christmas together which if I'm honest I thought might never happen again.”

Megan and Gracie face another two years of treatment and weekly visits to hospital before they can be given the all clear.

“We went through hell in hospital but now hospital visits are just a way of life,” added Mrs Garwood. “Terrible as it was to have both diagnosed at the same time, if they both had to have it then much better that they went through it together. The hardest part for us now is trying to remember who's having which drugs.”

The twins' courage throughout their ordeal has seen them both receive Cancer Research UK Little Star awards - which they were proud to show off when the EADT visited the family yesterday.

The annual awards, in partnership with TK Maxx which has raised �3.2million for research into Children's cancer, recognises youngsters who have faced the ordeal of cancer. Nominated youngsters receive a certificate signed by celebrities including Leona Lewis and athlete Usain Bolt.

Paula Young, Cancer Research UK's spokesperson for Suffolk, said: “Megan and Gracie have coped amazingly well with all that they have been through in the past six months. It's an honour to be able to give them the Little Star wards and we wish the twins and their family every best wish through their ongoing treatment.”