A dad who shared a heartbreaking photo of his daughter’s cancer battle got a call from popstar Harry Styles asking to Facetime the youngster.
Andy Whelan posted the image of four-year-old Jessica capturing the ‘searing pain’ she is enduring as the disease takes hold of her body to highlight ‘the true face of cancer’.
The photo, posted on her Facebook page Jessica Whelan - A fight against Neuroblastoma , has been shared more than 8,000 times.
With it, Andy, from Oswaldtwistle, said: “As a photographer it is important to capture the truth and the reality of a situation, too easy it becomes to capture the joy of life whilst discarding the torture that we see.
“This is the hardest photograph I have ever made, 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 girl’s blood vessels protruding from beneath her skin, a solitary tear running down her cheek, her body stiffened and her face contorted in pain.”
After being inundated with messages of support from thousands of well-wishers sending their love to the family, Andy was surprised to get a call from none other than Cheshire popstar and Jessica’s idol One Direction singer Harry Styles.
Andy, 30, who left his electrician’s job when they got the devastating news about Jessica, said: “It was a surreal moment when I got off the phone. He is Jessica’s idol, she’s loved him since she was about 12 months old and followed him with her auntie Megan who’s liked One D since they started.
“We’re mad Manchester City fans and he actually rang during the match the other night and I missed the third goal.
“Megan was teasing me about missing the goal so I rang and told her you can’t help these things when Harry Styles is on the phone. The next thing she was screaming and crying, she couldn’t believe it.”
He added: “I had a nice conversation with him and he was asking what he could do for her.
“He offered to FaceTime but because Jessica is so unpredictable at the moment and we don’t know when she might be sleeping or in too much time, I asked him whether he could record a video to us to show to her when she’s feeling comfortable. At least that way it’s something she can watch again and again.”
Jessica’s plight appeared in the Observer last month after Andy and his partner Nicki Prendergast decided to stop treatment so that Jessica could try to enjoy a ‘normal’ life in the weeks she has left.
She has been fighting stage four neuroblastoma - an extremely malignant and aggressive cancer - for 13 months and has been through four different and intensive treatments to try to overcome it.
But, following a routine examination, their doctor broke the news the family were dreading most of all - that Jessica’s cancer had progressed - and nothing more can be done.
Aside from experimental studies - with no guarantee of success - the family have exhausted all available treatment options.
Andy, also dad to 21-month-old James, said he was shocked his photo has gone viral, but doesn’t regret sharing it online.
He said: “What inspired me most to take it was that when children have cancer you see so many photos of bald-headed smiling children surrounded by celebrities, but unfortunately I know that isn’t the case. This pain is something that’s regularly seen by us and many other families.
“The day it was taken was horrendous for us and we were finding it really difficult to manage Jessica’s pain. I think I was trying to take a picture more for ourselves so that in time to come we can look back at it and see that we did make the right decision.
“Maybe if we have a day when we are questioning our actions we can look as see this was agony for her and as heartbreaking as it is, this is why we decided to stop when we did and make her final weeks as comfortable as we can.”
Andy’s full Facebook post:
“As a photographer it is important to capture the truth and the reality of a situation, too easy it becomes to capture the joy of life whilst discarding the torture that we see.
This is the hardest photograph I have ever made, 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.”