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Young stars recognised for their bravery after two-year-old battles rare cancer

PUBLISHED: 09:25 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:25 07 December 2018

Ellie Shepard, two, with her bravery star from Cancer Research UK. Photo: MarkHewlett

Ellie Shepard, two, with her bravery star from Cancer Research UK. Photo: MarkHewlett

© 2013 Mark Hewlett

When a two-year-old girl was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2017 her entire family’s lives were turned upside down.

Amy and Mark Shepard with their four children Jack, Charlie, Ellie and Sophie, preparing to celebrate a cancer free Christmas. Photo:Mark HewlettAmy and Mark Shepard with their four children Jack, Charlie, Ellie and Sophie, preparing to celebrate a cancer free Christmas. Photo:Mark Hewlett

Almost a year after being given the all clear, the plucky youngster, now four, and her siblings have received national bravery awards from Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens.

Ellie Sheppard, of Taylor Place, Hethersett, had barely turned two when her father, Mark Sheppard, discovered a lump on her stomach while changing the toddler’s nappy in May 2017.

Within a week of her first GP appointment Ellie had been diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour and admitted to Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge.

Ellie’s mother, Amy Sheppard, said initially she could not accept that her youngest daughter had cancer.

Ellie Shepard, two, following an operation to remove one of her kidneys. Photo: Cancer Research UKEllie Shepard, two, following an operation to remove one of her kidneys. Photo: Cancer Research UK

Mrs Sheppard, a lunchtime assistant at her two middle children’s school, Queen’s Hill Primary in Costessey, said despite having a tumour the size of a grapefruit in her kidney the toddler had seemed healthy up until her diagnosis.

She said: “It didn’t really hit us until we got to Addenbrooke’s and saw all the other children looking so poorly. That was when I thought, this is it, this is real.”

Over the next eight months Ellie underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy, blood transfusions and had one of her kidneys removed.

Mrs Sheppard said uncertainty over the youngster’s health shook the whole family, especially Ellie’s nine-year-old sister, Sophie.

Jack (13), Charlie (6), Ellie (2) and Sophie (9) Shepard preparing to celebrate Christmas 2018 following Ellie being given the all clear earlier this year. Photo: MarkHewlettJack (13), Charlie (6), Ellie (2) and Sophie (9) Shepard preparing to celebrate Christmas 2018 following Ellie being given the all clear earlier this year. Photo: MarkHewlett

She said: “Sophie is very close to Ellie. She found it hard when I had to leave for appointments. She didn’t want us to go. Cancer upsets everyone.”

Ellie’s final chemotherapy session was scheduled just weeks after Christmas Day 2017 and her mother said the family “hibernated from the world” to avoid potential infection risks.

The toddler was finally given the all clear in January 2018 and Mrs Shepard said she was over the moon the family would be able to spend this year’s festive period as “a normal family”.

She added: “All the kids are so excited and already counting the days. We’re going to be spending time with all our family and friends who have been so supportive through everything.

Hethersett toddler Ellie Shepard, Christmas 2017, two weeks before her last round of chemotherapy. Photo: Amy ShepardHethersett toddler Ellie Shepard, Christmas 2017, two weeks before her last round of chemotherapy. Photo: Amy Shepard

“The experience has made us all enjoy life more and take every day as it comes.

“You never know what’s round the corner.”

A family of stars

Hethersett toddler Ellie Shepard before her cancer diagnosis in May 2017. Photo: Amy ShepardHethersett toddler Ellie Shepard before her cancer diagnosis in May 2017. Photo: Amy Shepard

Earlier this year Ellie and her siblings Jack, Charlie, Sophie Sheppard received bravery awards from Cancer Research UK after being nominated by their mother Amy Shepard.

Mrs Sheppard said: “After the year she’d gone through at such a young age we though she deserved something special.

“Everyone was really shocked because they didn’t know I’d nominated her but they were all delighted when they received their certificates.”

Although Ellie was too ill to attend the award ceremony Mrs Sheppard said the toddler was overcome with excitement when she received the package.

Two-year-old Ellie Shepard in Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, following an operation to fix her line. Photo: Amy ShepardTwo-year-old Ellie Shepard in Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, following an operation to fix her line. Photo: Amy Shepard

She added: “We also received a TK Maxx gift certificate which the kids shared and got something each.”

Danielle Glavin, spokesperson for Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens, said: “We’re calling on people in Norfolk to nominate inspirational youngsters for this year’s awards so that we can recognise their incredible courage and let them know how special they are.”

To nominate a star visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/donate/kids-and-teens/kids-teens-star-awards

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