I had to tell my son, 8, he had cancer just 4 months after his mum died of it

A DAD had to tell his eight-year-old son that he had cancer “just like his mummy”, four months after her death.

Jamie Gittins, 40, was shocked when doctors said his youngest son, Freddie, had leukaemia in July of this year.


The family were still grieving from the loss of mum Emma Gittins, at just 41, in March.

Jamie, of Hereford, said: “The news of Freddie's leukaemia just broke me.

"After going through the worst of cancer with Emma, my first thought was that my son was going to die.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing both of them.

“We had just buried his mum and now I was panicking that I would also have to bury my son.

“Freddie was asleep in the hospital bed when I found out. I just sat by his side all night, watching him sleep.

“When he woke up in the morning, I explained to him that he had cancer and would need to have treatment. I told him he was going to have a terrible few months, but he would get better.

“When he heard the word cancer, he asked me, ‘like mummy?’ So, I explained that it was a different type, but that it was cancer, too.”

The family's world was first turned upside down back in October 2017, when Emma, then 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The mum to Freddie, eight, and Noah, 11, got given the all-clear in August 2018 after having chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Jamie, a primary school teacher, said: “We separated in 2018 but remained the best of friends, co-parenting the boys together.

"But a couple of years later, in February 2019, the cancer came back and this time it was terminal.

“We’ve always been very honest with the boys about Emma’s diagnosis. We explained to them that the cancer wouldn’t go away this time."

On 30 March 2021, Emma, who worked in HR, passed away surrounded by friends and family in Hereford Hospital.

Then, just three months later, Jamie noticed an alarming change in his younger son and asked doctors to see him.

He said: “In June, I noticed that Freddie was really tired all the time – incredibly lethargic. He would come home from school, put on the telly and fall asleep within five minutes.

“By July, I noticed he was getting a yellow tinge to his skin, so I booked a doctor’s appointment and they sent us straight to hospital.

“We were there all night while Freddie had tests done and, at around 1am, a doctor took me off into a private room to explain the results.”

On 14 July 2021, Freddie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), an aggressive cancer of the white blood cells.


Only around 790 people are diagnosed with ALL in the UK each year, 75 per cent of which are under 15 years old.

It causes symptoms of repeated infections, bone and joint pain, swollen glands, tummy pain and unusual bleeding.

Changes in the skin include paleness, purple rash and easy bruising – and some patients, like Freddie, may have jaundice as a result of the cancer impairing liver function.

Jamie said: “I was expecting the doctor to say it was a liver infection, so when I heard leukaemia, I just broke down.

“We had barely had any time to process losing Emma before we were back on cancer wards, this time for Freddie.”

Jamie also had to tell Noah about his little brother’s diagnosis.

He said: "I explained to him that chemotherapy would make Freddie better. Noah turned around and said 'we know what it's like now’.

“I think Noah has actually probably found this the toughest to deal with.”

Doctors first needed to control inflammation in Freddie’s liver and pancreas before they could start chemotherapy.

Like his mum, Freddie immediately displayed immense courage after his diagnosis.

Jamie said: “Nothing has really fazed him. He’s been ridiculously brave. He’s such a warrior.

“He only really got upset when he realised he would lose his hair, because he loves his hair.”

Freddie is having routine checks on the level of cancer present in his blood and currently, there is little trace of leukaemia there.

Jamie said: “We’re giving that a final kick with chemo and, hopefully, that will mark the end of Freddie’s treatment.”

The family are looking forward to “normality” in the future.

And friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for exciting experiences.

Emma wrote a blog – Boobs Behaving Badly – which detailed her journey with cancer. 

Jamie said: "After she passed away there were so many messages from people saying the blog had helped them through their own diagnosis.

“I knew it had provided a very positive outlook for both Emma and her readers, so I wanted to do the same for Freddie.”

The family have kept the legacy of Emma’s blogging by creating a new blog, “Fight said Fred”, writing on it since summer. 

Jamie said: “We’ve had some fun times in hospital, laughing and spending time together as a family, both when Emma was a patient and now with Freddie. 

“You have to make the most of what you have and you have to find a way to keep going.

“Being a parent of a child with cancer can be a very isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be either. There is a community of people in the same situation online.”



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