Leeds couple's five years of IVF before newborn baby diagnosed with cancer
Little Maddison Holt, from Gipton, was diagnosed with a Myofibroblastic Tumour just months after she was born in August 2019.
It was a huge blow for parents Rob, 31 and Natasha, 30, who had been overjoyed when they found out that they had fallen pregnant with their first child after five-years of trying to conceive.
Rob, a key cutter at Timpson, said: "Maddison is our first child and was a long time in the making.
"The IVF was a gruelling process and we must've gone through ten pregnancy tests a day but we were beyond happy when we got pregnant.
"Maddison was an unbelievable miracle."
One month after her birth Rob and Natasha, who have been together for eight years, got married in front of all their family.
The father-of-one said: "It was amazing to have Maddison there - though no one cared about us, she stole the show in her little gorgeous white dress."
However, the new parents' joy was short-lived when, just one month later, grandma Mandy noticed a hard lump in the youngster's stomach as she was soothing her.
The family rushed her straight to Leeds General Infirmary where they spent eight difficult weeks waiting for a diagnosis.
In November, they were told that Maddison, then three-months old, had a rare cancer called Inflammatory Myofibroblastic Tumour.
Natasha, who also works at Timpson, said: "I just don’t think we expected it. We 'd only just had a baby so emotions were already all over the place.
"We’d struggled for so long to get pregnant, we’d gone through the IVF and finally got her and then to be told told she had cancer - it was hard.
"When you hear that word your first thought is 'is she going to die?' We didn’t know how to feel or what was going to happen."
It was a particularly difficult time for Rob, who had seen several family members lose their lives to cancer.
He added: "The cancer diagnosis was the worst thing I could have heard.
"There’s been a lot of cancer in my family and my first reaction was to fear the worst because I’d never known someone beat it.
“During the time we were on the cancer ward I even had to go to my auntie's funeral, who had died from cancer, and then head straight back to the ward.
"I felt broken, raw and lost. Whenever I left the hospital I would cry for hours on end."
Maddison began a treatment of chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumour down in size and in late November, she was allowed to be taken home and return to the hospital for treatment.
Unfortunately, just weeks later she was rushed back into the LGI with a bad case of bronchitis.
She was placed into isolation, put on oxygen and ended up having three blood transfusions.
The family was told that Maddison could not go home until she was able to breathe for 24 hours on her own - and on Christmas Eve she managed it.
Maddison spent her first Christmas and New Year's at home with mum, dad and family before going back to the consultants on January 3.
Unfortunately, the family were told that the chemotherapy had not shrunk the tumour and Maddison required surgery.
Rob said: "I was so scared. She’d just started to smile and had her first giggle. Selfishly, I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing that gorgeous giggle again.
"There was one question I needed to know but could not bring myself to ask - ‘Am I going to see my daughter again?’
"I couldn’t even get the words out, I physically could not say it. Looking back, I’m thankful as I didn’t need that answer."
Maddison underwent the 6-hour surgery just days later on January 8.
After the surgery she was taken to the high dependency ward where her parents were given the good news that the doctors had removed 100 per cent of the tumour.
Rob said: "Everyone handled the news much better than me, I just started at her and cried and cried. We were all so happy.
"The surgeons had to remove a third of her bowel to get all of the tumour but aside from that it the whole thing was gone.
"We we warned that we would have to wait a while to see if she could digest food and if her bowel was working normally but just days later as I was driving in the car I got a call to say that she'd been to the toilet.
"It sounds silly but I went mental. I rang everyone in the family to tell them and I was jumping up and down as though Leeds United had already been promoted. I was absolutely buzzing.
"By Monday, she was drinking milk and laughing and giggling - that gorgeous giggle I didn't think I would see again for a while.
"And by Tuesday, our girl was home."
Rob is now sharing his family's story to raise awareness about childhood cancers and to encourage people to open up and talk about what they're going through.
He said: "One day I just opened the notes app on my phone and began writing and writing.
"When I actually read back through what I’d written it was really emotional. It was like I’d finally grasped the enormity of what had happened instead of keeping it all bottled up inside.
"I sat and stared at the note for about 30 minutes before I decided to share it online. I put it on my personal Facebook and, as I’m a huge Leeds United fan, in some Leeds oriented groups too.
"I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just thought that if I could help one person recognise the signs of cancer or open up emotionally, then it was worth it. Mental health is so important.
"I had hundreds of supportive messages on the posts and people sent me private messages really opening up about what they’ve been through.
"I had people who had been through a deep loss or who were going through a similar thing tell me that the post had given them hope. It’s been really touching."
Natasha added: "I’m a bit more open about what happened whereas Rob is a really private person.
"He spent so long writing the post but when he shared it everyone was so supportive. We had so many messages and calls.
"It was quite weird as we weren't expecting such a huge response but it’s been so nice.
"Even people we knew from school or old jobs stop us in the supermarket now to see how we are and ask how Maddison is doing."
Little Maddison, now six-months-old, is finally home with her family and cancer free.
Her parents describe her as "amazing."
Natasha said: "Looking at her now you wouldn’t even know what she had been through.
"She’s really becoming her own person.
"She’s always giggling, is just so chilled and always chuntering away. She’s amazing."
Rob and Natasha are now hoping to give back by supporting Leeds based children's cancer charity Candlelighters.
This Easter, the couple are appealing to people across the city to help deliver a chocolate egg to all the children in Leeds General Infirmary.
Anyone who wants to donate an Easter egg can drop them off at any Timpson's store in the city.