Dan is one of our Community Support Volunteers. He helps the Community Support Team deliver support groups to other families affected by childhood cancer across Yorkshire.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Danny Wheeldon and I am married to Nichola. We have lived in Leeds all of our lives and met at school. Our daughter ‘Grace’ was born in 2006 and all seemed wonderful until April 2014, when a sudden and life threatening illness struck.
We went from enjoying a family break in the Lake District to being told by Intensive Care Doctors just a few days later that we should be prepared that she might not survive beyond the next weekend. Our lives were thrown in to turmoil and we were facing the most horrendous and terrifying news that no parent should ever face.
Sadly, Grace passed away following complications and we returned from Newcastle without her. Our lives sunk to depths we would never wish on anybody. We felt isolated, empty and without direction or purpose. Several months passed and we were invited to the annual memory day event. We were unsure whether to attend or not but our decision to go has proved to be one of the most positive we have made since losing Grace.
We met other families who shared our experiences of loss, staff who understood, and were introduced to the Square and what this incredible facility can offer families going through their own traumatic journeys. Through Candlelighters we have met many amazing families and forged friendships with some truly inspirational people. It is three years since we lost Grace and can say without hesitation, without Candlelighters we would not be as strong as we are now.
How did you keep a positive outlook throughout your journey?
Despite the frequent setbacks during Grace’s illness, we always concentrated on the positives. We did not want her to sense any negativity and knew that staying strong together was the only way through this. The children battling these horrendous illnesses are the most fearsome fighters and we felt it was our responsibility as parents to attempt to be as strong as they are. We are lucky to have a strong support network made up of family and friends and quickly learnt to accept help when it was offered. The smallest of gestures can make a huge difference when you feel totally isolated in hospital.
Why did you want to give something back?
This is simple, we know our daughter would want us to. In our hour of need, Candlelighters were there for us, they held our hand and picked us up, they brought some joy to our daughters life when she most needed it. We want to make sure other families fighting their own battles have some where to turn for help. This Charity keeps on supporting a family as long as the family needs them and Yorkshire is blessed to have such a tower of strength in it’s corner.
What is the best part of being involved with the Candlelighters Support network?
Being part of Candlelighters makes me feel closer to Grace. I know she would be proud that I have tried to make something positive following our terrible loss. We have made some lifelong friends through Candlelighters and although none of us would have chosen to meet each other in such circumstances, it is a place where you can meet other people with an understanding of just what you are going through and how your feelings and emotions can fluctuate.
What would you say to families currently on their journey, considering getting involved as a Candlelighters volunteer?
If you feel a desire to help in any capacity then just do it. I cannot promise that it will take away your pain or provide answers or cures, but you will meet some other people who truly appreciate what you are experiencing. Being involved makes me feel a connection with my late daughter and is a place where she is never forgotten. Knowing what a difference Candlelighters made to our lives when our daughter was ill and how they have continued to help us after our loss makes us appreciate how precious their work is. It is vital that other children and their families experiencing cancer treatments have somebody in their corner too.