Dad shares heartbreaking photo of his daughter to make people aware of the darkness that is childhood cancer.
Hundreds attended the funeral of four-year-old Jessica Whelan the little girl who broke our hearts in the photo shared by her father, Andy, to show the ‘true face of cancer’
Jessica’s family share their heartbreaking final farewell –
“Goodbye Jessica, reads the post on the Facebook.
“As the hearse turned the corner of our street the reality of the day hit me like a freight train. All too quickly the surreal became real and a wave of emotion coursed through my body. This was to be the day we said our final goodbyes to my princess.
Seeing her coffin proudly displayed amongst flowers from ourselves and family and reading messages to Jessica with those flowers broke me. For numerous days beforehand I had been able to go and visit Jessica, holding her hand and giving her kisses, this day would be the end of this.
As we set off in procession behind the hearse I could barely look at those that stopped to line the route, focusing on the coffin and watching the police horses that lead the way. As we turned the final corner on the approach to the family church I was humbled seeing the crowds awaiting her arrival.
So many of our family, friends and strangers turning out to pay their respects to my beautiful daughter. I could not muster the strength to carry her coffin myself, my legs weak and my heart breaking I asked the the funeral director arrange for his men to carry her in. I had comfort that I had carried her body out of our family home seven days previous and that to me was the most important part of this journey.
The church service was perfect and fitting for Jessica. Every detail already spoken about with Father Daly previous to the service but carried out in such a way that was perfect for her send off. I did not even see many of those who attended, as many inside the church already as waited outside on our arrival. As I followed Jessica’s coffin on our departure I tried to look at the gathered congregation but on numerous occasions I had to focus elsewhere as seeing the love for Jessica broke me.
I cannot thank Lancashire Constabulary enough for the planning and the effort they all went to on the day to allow the procession to flow so smoothly. From the police horses escorting us to the church to the traffic control on our procession to the crematorium, closing off road junctions to allow the procession to go ahead unobstructed. Seeing roadside tributes and families setting off balloons had us all in tears as we made our way to the crematorium.
On our arrival at the gates of Accrington crematorium the police horses once more greeted us but this time also Jessica’s two favourite horses, Jessie and Bobbysox, from Accrington Riding Centre, a place very close to Jessica’s and our own hearts. I shed so many tears watching as these two horses led the police horses in procession through the cemetery grounds to the crematorium, the rider of Bobbysox herself only eight years old and a girl who Jessica had become close to and told on numerous occasion that she would one day ride with her when she was better.
Inside the crematorium it was invited family and friends only but still standing room only such was the love for Jessica. I had prepared myself mentally for the start of the first song, Ellie Goulding’s ‘How Long Will I Love You’, but hearing the gathered congregation wail set me off once more.
It was a short service inside the crematorium, a chance for our final goodbyes. What I had not expected was for Father Daly to ask myself and Nicki to join him in blessing Jessica’s coffin one final time with baptism water. I looked at Nicki who indicated she was happy to do this and we both joined him, me starting the blessing followed by Nicki. As Nicki started she nearly collapsed at this final act and I had to grab her and hold her close to me as she sobbed uncontrollably.
Finally Jessica’s coffin was carried to the catafalque as the final piece of music, Elizabeth Mitchell’s ‘You Are My Sunshine’, was played and the curtains were drawn closed.
It was a truly humbling and overwhelming day and we have so many people to thank but too many to list. It was a perfect day, if that is a word that can be used for such a sad event, and the sun shone brightly, Jessica shining down on us for the entire day.”
RIP Jessica. We will never forget your story. It has touched our hearts so deeply. Our thoughts are with all those who loved you dearly.
Previous UPDATE 21 November
Sadly little Jessica, the four-year-old girl who broke the internet’s heart after her father posted a photo of her pain and suffering, has lost her battle with Cancer.
Her family posted their heartbreak in a touching post on Facebook,
” I feel both sadness and relief in informing you all that Jessica finally found peace at seven o’clock this morning. No longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints of her body.
Now my princess has grown her angel wings and has gone up to play with her friends and loved ones. She will now watch down over her little brother and ourselves until one day we are reunited again.
Last night she finally allowed me to hold her in my arms and we had a big cuddle as I told her how much I loved her. I told her again that it was okay for her to close her eyes and go to sleep and I kissed her forehead and her lips numerous times. It seems like this is what she needed to finally allow her to find comfort in her passing as within eight hours of this cuddle she finally took her final breath. She was a daddy’s girl from the start and even right up to the end. I feel like a massive part of me has just been torn away but I am so glad that I could give her that comfort in her final hours. She passed peacefully and calmly with not even a murmur.
Thank you to everyone of you who has shared and has been a part of our journey. I ask now for privacy for us and our family as we mourn the loss of our beautiful princess.
From a heartbroken daddy of the most amazing and beautiful girl.”
“This is the hardest photograph I have ever made, writes dad Andy Whelan. It is in fact my own four year old daughter.
A few days ago she was given what is most likely only a few weeks to live after a battle against cancer that has been waged for over twelve months. This photograph was made in a moment that we as parents could offer her no comfort, her pushing us away whilst she rode out this searing pain in solitude. This sadly, for us as a family, is not a sight that we see rarely. This is now a familiar sight that we see regularly through each day and night, its frequency now more often. This is the true face of cancer, my baby girls blood vessels protruding from beneath her skin, a solitary tear running down her cheek, her body stiffened and her face contorted in pain.
I could try and use a thousand words to describe this image that we as parents are confronted with on a daily basis but these words would fall short of truly depicting the sight we see. With this photo I do not mean to offend or upset, I do mean however to educate and shock those that see it in it’s context. Perhaps by seeing this photo people not in our position will be made aware of the darkness that is childhood cancer, perhaps these same people may be able to do something about it so that in the future no child has to suffer this pain, so that no parent has to bear witness to their own flesh and blood deteriorating daily.
The only apologies I offer are to those that know Jessica, I understand that this photo is hard to see and even harder to absorb. To those that do not know Jessica I offer no apologies, this is what cancer does to a child in their final weeks and days!!! Before her diagnosis I was one of those ignorant to the darkness of childhood cancer, not truly appreciating the hell that it brings. It would never happen to us! Now I give childhood cancer the respect it deserves, seeing too many children suffering this same fate and watching families torn apart.
If this photograph only serves as a purpose to make people think twice about this evil and put into perspective what it does to a child then it has achieved its purpose. Research needs to be done, cures need to be found, too long now has this been allowed to happen.
Please I beg of you, as a heartbroken father, it is too late for my daughter, but childhood cancer needs to be cured. No family should have to go through this hell.”
His post has been shared over 6700 times and received nearly 5,000 comments.
Jessica, aged 4, was diagnosed with high risk stage 4 Neuroblastoma, on the 23rd September 2015.
A sad update from Jessica’s family shared on the 7th November
Jessica’s family have posted on Facebook that her blood levels have deteriorated quite significantly over this last couple of days, a lot quicker than anticipated, to the point now where her breathing is slow and laboured and her heart rate increasing to try and get enough oxygen to her most needed areas. “Because of this we now know her time remaining with us is sadly limited.”
“Please as a family I ask that you respect our privacy in these final times. We have so far been very public to try and raise awareness of this disease and thank you all for your support and sharing of Jessica’s story. Now is the time that we ask for privacy whilst this journey comes to an end.”
“I am in tears as I write this, not wanting but understanding the end is near. We have always wanted to do what is best for Jessica and we believe that in now stopping all but the pain management that is now at a level to give her comfort we will give her the most comfortable and dignified passing.”
“Thank you for being a part of this journey. After Jessica’s passing the page will remain to be updated to act as a memorial to Jessica whist also serving the purpose of hopefully furthering our attempts to increase awareness to childhood cancer and ultimately hopefully a change in funding to the research that is much needed.”
Our thoughts are with Jessica and her family.
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