Derbyshire mum is gifting her terminally-ill daughter a bucket list of experiences - as it could be her last Christmas
Gail Iredale, 52, was left distraught when her daughter, Hannah, 20, was diagnosed with glioblastoma - one of the most aggressive types of brain tumour - in September 2022. She was given a prognosis of 15 months and has undergone a round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the space of 13 months.
Doctors are concerned Hannah's condition could deteriorate in the New Year - so Gail has started a bucket list filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences to give Hannah a Christmas to remember.
As part of her bucket list Hannah hopes to go on the London Eye, visit LegoLand, see Windsor Castle and receive messages from her favourite singers, Tom Odell and Tom Grennan.
Mum-of-two Gail, an embroidery business owner, from Willington, Derbyshire, said: “We really just want to create a wonderland Christmas - because I do question will this be her last? It all depends on what the hospital says - if the tumour is starting to grow again, she may well spend Christmas in surgery.
“But if it's stable - we’re going to have an amazing Christmas, and experience it to the fullest. We’ve decorated the entire house in bunting, we’ll have a big party on Christmas Eve - and we’re giving her a list of experiences, so we can make memories. There’s lots she wants to do.”
Hannah has been on palliative chemotherapy and radiotherapy for the last year, and her last scan, from September 2023, showed the tumour had shrunk by 1cm cubed.
Through fundraisers, like a local tombola, pub quizzes and a JustGiving page, Gail has managed to raise £250k for Hannah to hopefully get life-extending treatment in the US.
The DCVax-L - the treatment Hannah and Gail want to access in the US - is a type of immunotherapy vaccine for glioblastoma. The manufacturer says clinical trials have extended patients' lives by over 10 years. It isn't available yet on the NHS - and generally costs £250k in the US and UK.
Gail and Hannah have chosen to get the treatment in LA under Dr. Linda Liau, who conducted the first three clinical trials of the drug at UCLA.
While they haven’t yet set a date, Gail plans to fly Hannah out to Los Angeles to trial her the DCVax-L drug. She said: “We can’t blow all our money on Christmas this year - we’re hoping to get Hannah to LA at some point in 2024. It’s more important for us to save up for flights and accommodation - I’ll want to be by her side every second.
“But we’ve been making clay bunting to decorate the house with - which is nice, because Hannah can get involved in the arts and crafts side of it as well.”
Hannah’s next set of scan results are due to come out on December 11 - and it will show whether the tumour has grown or remained stable. She may need to go in for a craniotomy - a surgical removal of part of the skull to expose the brain - if the tumour has grown.
“We want to be careful in not planning everything before we get these latest scan results,” Gail added. “She may well be in hospital over Christmas. But it depends on whether it’s grown, and how big it is now.”
If Hannah’s cancer has stayed stable, she plans to stay home for the festive season - but Gail is planning to throw her a Christmas Eve party.
She said: “We just want it to be filled with joy and happiness - and the spirit of the festive season. We’re having that Christmas Eve party - the house will be packed, and the oven will be going all night. I’ll be feeding everyone with pizzas, sausage rolls and a big wheel of camembert.
“We’ll have a fire pit in the garden, so people can toast marshmallows. I’ll set up karaoke and we’ll get the party poppers and balloons out. It’ll be all about food, a bit of drink - just celebrating the fact that she’s made it another year.
“Christmas Day is about spending it with your family, but we’re going to extend Christmas Eve to everyone in the community who knows her and loves her.”
Hannah and Gail have started writing a bucket list for 2024 - and her Christmas present will be as many opportunities as the family can afford.
Hannah has asked for a trip to Windsor Castle, gift messages from her favourite singers - Tom Odell and Tom Grennan - and Gail even reckons she should do a recording session of her own.
“I really want to get Hannah into a recording studio to sing her own songs,” she said.“She really belts - she’s got such a rich, deep voice. She wanted to go to college to study music - I told her no, I wanted her to get a ‘proper’ career. By God, I wish I’d said yes now.
“I’m taking her go karting as well - she’s always wanted to do it. And she’s wanted to go to LegoLand since she was little.”
The aim is to give Hannah a “full, fun itinerary” - but Gail still finds it bittersweet. She said: “You try to enjoy those moments - but at the back of your mind, you do question is this her last Christmas? It cuts deep - this time last year she was celebrating bonfire night in a wheelchair. I was stood looking at her and thought ‘this could be her last bonfire night.’
“But you have to pull it back and just think ‘look at her. Soak it all in while she’s here.’ I’m doing this for her, not me.”
Hannah’s bucket list:1. Receive gift messages from Tom Odell and Tom Grennan2. See any West End show3. Go on the London Eye4. Ride the Snowdonia zip line5. Visit LegoLand6. See Windsor Castle7. Record her own songs in a proper recording studio