Saturday, 6th September 2006 was the day the Ollerenshaw’s lives changed forever.
It was only a few weeks off daughter Molly’s fourth birthday, when Rachel and Tim noticed the first signs of her illness.
While on a family day out Molly became increasingly uncomfortable and the situation quickly escalated when, the next day, she found herself in A&E. A scan later detected a tumour in her left kidney.
What followed was the worst possible news – it had been diagnosed as a rare kind of kidney cancer called a Wilms tumour and she was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital to begin a six-month course of chemotherapy before undergoing an operation to remove the kidney.
She was given the all-clear and life began to return to normal for the Warwickshire school pupil, until the news came just 18 months later – the cancer had returned, this time on her bowel. More chemotherapy followed and the tumour was again removed, but Molly struggled to cope with her treatment the second time around.
It was during this time that Molly joined the CLIC Sargent Youth Advisory Group to help improve the lives of children with cancer and, in 2010, narrated an Ardmann Studios short animated film designed as a guide for coping with radiotherapy. It is being widely used today in the UK and overseas to help improve the patient experience.
Free from cancer for a few more months, May 2010 was to bring the news the family had dreaded – the cancer had returned again to Molly’s liver. And, despite a further operation, a stem cell transplant and a further aggressive round of chemotherapy, another fourth tumour appeared in March 2011.
It was to be just two and a half precious months until Molly lost her brave battle and slipped away at the family home in Hatton Park on 15th June 2011, with mum and dad by her side.
Tim and Rachel had spent a large part of those five years in and out of hospital and soon realised that many of the patients they met did not benefit from the emotional or financial support that they had received for Molly and her siblings.
Driven by this – and a determination to keep Molly’s legacy alive -Molly Olly’s Wishes was officially born in September 2011.
Rachel said: “It never ceases to amaze us how many people Molly inspired in her short life. She achieved more in that time than many of us do in our lifetimes. She had a great smile and a big heart to go with it.
“We miss her so very much and words cannot describe the pain we feel no longer being able to hug her, have her with us and enjoy her perspective on life.
“We take massive comfort from helping other children and their families in their dark days and that keeps Molly in all our hearts.”
The charity has come a long way in eight years, and this year marked its £2 million fundraising milestone, of which Rachel and Tim are justifiably proud.
Rachel said: “What is particularly poignant for me is that the donation that took us to the £2m was from a family that the charity had supported who wanted to give back. It is a privilege to help and I want to acknowledge all those individuals and companies who have enabled us.”
Reflecting on the charity’s early days, Rachel added: “I wouldn’t say I had any grand ideas at the beginning. There were no strategies as such. I just wanted to help as many people as possible.
“I think Molly Olly’s is part of a big jigsaw with other people like CLIC Sargent, the community nursing teams, the hospital – you put us all together and we can help get people through.
“The hospital are brilliant at helping you and looking after you and getting you through medically, CLIC Sargent will come in and be that link between home and hospital but it’s more of the emotional support that we will offer to people. It’s about putting all those pieces together.”
Tim Ollerenshaw said: “When we started the charity I never anticipated that there would be a day when we could announce that £2m had been raised. What a testament to all those who have contributed for the benefit of children and their families challenged by serious illness.
“One of my fears when Molly died is that she would be forgotten but every day she lives on with the help the charity provides to others. Molly was full of smiles, positivity and thoughtfulness and incredibly determined. The charity aims to mirror those traits in our work.”
Having gained its charity status in 2012, the charity has so far helped more than 2,000 children from newborn to age 18 by granting individual wishes. They may take the form of equipment to help a child live day to day with their condition; an alternative therapy treatment to complement traditional medicine, or even a special occasion or day out.
Rachel said: “In doing the wishes the one thing I hadn’t anticipated is how grateful people are and how they want to fundraise for you in return. As we grow and provide more wishes, more families want to help the charity.
“We know that little things can have a big impact and that time spent with family is priceless. Any request for a wish is discussed with families and the relevant health care professional to ensure that it supports the child as much as possible.”
Mascot of the charity is a therapeutic toy lion called Olly The Brave who has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane that helps to explain and normalise the hair loss that comes with many types of chemotherapy. These form part of an Olly the Brave pack that has now been handed out to 40 hospitals across the UK along with a book Olly The Brave And The Wigglys.
There are now three books in the series, all written and illustrated by local author Diane Maybey. The first two were Highly Commended by the British Medical Association at the 2017 Patient Information Awards, and the third instalment, published in March this year, helps children who struggle after treatment to return to a ‘normal’ life.
The Ollerenshaws have also been overwhelmed by the amount of fundraising support they have received including a wide variety of events from gala balls and sporting occasions through to individual sponsored challenges.
But one of the charity’s proudest achievements came in April last year with the funding of the first Molly Olly consultant in paediatric palliative medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Rachel said: “The hospital did not have a palliative paediatrician and had been trying to get funding for the post for some time. This is a massive achievement for a small charity like ours.”
Some 30 children a week in the UK are given a cancer diagnosis, and more are told that they have a life-threatening or terminal illness in one form or another. Many of these, especially those diagnosed with leukaemia will be under five years old.
Rachel added: “When children are newly diagnosed with any life- threatening or terminal illness, the shock to both parents and patients is immense. The hospital environment, full of new sights, sounds and smells can be disturbing.
“They are very quickly thrown into an environment alien to them and have to take in a whole new world of procedures, language and interactions with doctors, nurses and other health professionals. This all has to be done while accepting the diagnosis itself. It is a very frightening and challenging time for all concerned.”
It’s certainly been a deeply emotional journey for the Ollerenshaws, but one that Rachel says has brought a whole new perspective.
“I feel very privileged to be able to help people and do something that I find very rewarding and that you feel is making a very real difference to people’s lives. Situations like Molly’s are rare and that can make you feel isolated and alone. We want families to feel supported and to know that we can offer help.
“Receiving the wishes and hearing all the different stories is emotional and very sad at times but sharing these experiences is also therapeutic and builds very strong friendships and a better understanding.”
Molly was the middle child of three and for brother Ben, now at university, and sister Maeve, it’s also been the steepest of emotional learning curves.
Rachel said: “Maeve was two when Molly was diagnosed and Ben was five. I never told them untruths. So while we might not have been blunt in saying this is what it is, we never skirted around the truth and when they asked ‘Is Molly going to die?’ I said ‘yes’ because I didn’t want them to hear it from somebody else. I wanted to be the one to deliver that information to my children. It helps them to come to terms with things.
“All four of us dealt with it very differently. We’re a close family but all of us reacted differently and I think it’s about accepting that. There is no right or wrong way necessarily. It’s about letting people come to terms with things in their own time.”
But what advice does Rachel have for families experiencing the crippling pain of a recent child bereavement?
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We were very fortunate having people around us but still I didn’t like asking for help and you always think there is somebody more deserving than you. It’s all about connecting with the people who get what your journey is, allowing them to help you and providing you with that extra support or signposting you somewhere.”
For Molly Olly’s Wishes though, the fundraising continues in earnest with a host of events already planned or in the pipeline. Pictured above are just of the fundraising events and fundraisers over the past 12 months.
Rachel said: “The key thing for Molly while she was ill was just being normal and being able to do the same things as her peers, like wearing the clothes she wanted to wear, having her hair styled – just being a girl. So, for me, it’s about giving people those moments that make them feel they’re accepted like everybody else and not out on the edge.
“Thank you to everyone who has helped us and please keep supporting as sadly there will always be more children that need us.”
To find out more information about the charity or how to help or donate visit: https://www.mollyolly.co.uk