A five-year-old boy always held his little sister like a responsible older brother. He loved her whole-heartedly and never missed a chance to cuddle her. In a tragic turn of events, he was fortunate enough to hold her hand one last time.
Losing a loved one changes people most unusually. While the tragedy and pain hardly subside, we might likely grow around our grief and get accustomed to living with the void. Some days, the memories offer repose, and on other occasions, they sting us like a bee.
Dealing with joys and sorrows is a part of being alive, and the more trials and tribulations we endure, the stronger we might feel. Today’s story encapsulates a similar scenario, shedding light on the somewhat strange balance between holding on and letting go.
Meagan and Laurence Collard were parents to two adorable boys, Cayden and Franklin. Their house echoed with children’s cackles, and their days and nights were spent changing diapers, feeding, and handling their munchkins’ tantrums.
The couple from Western Australia thoroughly embraced parenthood and loved every second of it. They cherished the experience so much that they wished to become parents again, this time to a sweet little girl.
Their heartfelt wish came true when Meagan fell pregnant and discovered she was expecting a girl. Soon afterward, the Collards embarked on a shopping spree and began decorating the house to welcome their daughter.
house to welcome their daughter.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD, LITTLE GIRL
Cayden and Franklin helped their parents and loved picking sparkly princess outfits for their baby sister. Finally, on July 19, 2017, the family welcomed their little angel and named her “Piper Winifred.”
The Collards bid farewell to Winifred on July 1, 2019, 18 days before she turned two.
Little Winifred’s arrival filled their life with infinite joy. She was a lively child who slept and ate well and continued hitting her milestones. Her older brothers fell in love with her when they laid eyes on her. In short, Winifred completed the Collard family.
WHEN TRAGEDY STRUCK
Everything was picture-perfect for the Australian couple when in May 2018, Winifred became unwell and started vomiting. Initially, they thought she had gastro, but when she started running a high temperature, Meagan took her to a GP.
The doctor gave her antibiotics for what he assumed was an ear infection. Sometime later, Meagan took her to the hospital again and was told she had a virus. A month later, Winifred vomited again. But that wasn’t the only thing that worried her mom.
Meagan noticed a hard lump on the right side of her daughter’s belly while feeding her. She took her to the GP again, who examined Winifred alongside other doctors. They agreed it appeared like the baby’s liver was swollen.
THE HEART-WRENCHING DIAGNOSIS
The doctors took a blood sample and admitted the little girl. Meagan was told the only reason Winifred’s liver would be enlarged was because of HIV, Hepatitis, or cancer. The mother knew the first two options were unlikely because she tested negatively in pregnancy.
But the third option haunted her. She didn’t want to alarm her husband or family, so she kept the news to herself. The next day, the blood reports arrived as abnormal, and Meagan took Winifred to the children’s hospital.
Laurence joined his wife and daughter in the hospital, and after running several scans and tests, they were given a room in the oncology ward. The same afternoon, the doctors told the Collards their 11-month-old girl had Neuroblastoma.
THE PROLONGED TREATMENT
Neuroblastoma is rare cancer, most commonly found in infants. According to the scans, Winifred was at stage four, and cancer had already spread from the adrenal gland to the liver, lymph nodes, abdomen, chest cavity, and ovaries.
But the Collards didn’t know whether their little princess was at high risk and how much treatment she would need. After the doctors took a biopsy of one of her tumors, Winifred started her chemotherapy. Weeks later, her parents discovered she was at high risk.
The little girl required five rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, stem cell transplant, radiation, and six months of immunotherapy. Winifred experienced several side effects of the treatment, including vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, and weight loss.
ENDURING THE CHALLENGES
Meagan and Laurence were always on their toes, juggling work, looking after their boys, and accompanying Winifred on her chemo treatments. As a mom of three kids, Meagan struggled to be there for her sons and care for her daughter. She recalled:
“I always missed out on special things with them which was extremely hard at the time. You don’t want to disappoint any of your kids or treat one of them as more important than the other, but at that time Piper’s treatment was our biggest priority.”
After some time, Winifred underwent a stem cell transplant, which kept her isolated for four weeks. The little girl didn’t see her older brothers for nearly three weeks. Cayden and Franklin begged their parents to see their sister because they missed her immensely.
HER CONDITION ONLY WORSENED WITH TIME
Fortunately, Winifred was discharged on Christmas day 2018, and the Collards celebrated the festive occasion as a family. But the little one’s health didn’t get better, and her condition constantly worried her parents. Meagan recollected:
“I was constantly exhausted, living off red bull and coffee, trying to juggle school drop offs for my eldest and then spending the day at the hospital with Piper and Franklin who was two at the time, or all three of them the days Cayden didn’t have school or over the holidays.”
Winifred’s condition became critical around March 2019. She felt unhappy, lost weight, and was always cranky. The doctors told the Collards it was due to the immunotherapy she received. But Meagan wasn’t satisfied with the doctors’ reply.
THE DEVASTATING NEWS
By May 2019, Winifred constantly sobbed and refused to walk. She held her stomach over her liver and uttered ouch. During this time, the little angel lost a friend her age who died after relapsing when the doctors didn’t listen to her mother.
Meagan tried to trust the doctors and kept her doubts at bay. But on June 8, her husband noticed a huge lump on Winifred’s belly button while cuddling her. Her eyes looked pale yellow, so they took her to the hospital.
After multiple scans, the Collards found out that the tumors had spread. Meagan mentioned feeling furious because she repeatedly told the doctors her daughter wasn’t okay, but they sent her home and told her not to worry.
To save their daughter’s life, the Collards decided to head overseas to take part in trials for relapsed Neuroblastoma. Sadly, they received the news that Winifred’s liver had too much damage, and she wouldn’t be accepted in any trials.
Meagan and Laurence decided to continue the chemotherapy, hoping they could start the trials once their daughter’s liver started working properly. Things looked good initially, but the baby’s liver function declined on the fourth day of chemo treatment.
On June 17, the Collards returned home and were asked to wait and see if chemo eventually worked. The couple then explained to their sons what their baby sister was enduring and she was going to heaven. Meagan expressed:
“Cayden who was now five instantly said we had to find her a new doctor or make her soup to make her better but eventually understood that no one would be able to help her. This was the hardest thing we had to do.”
On June 20, 2019, Winifred woke up and behaved differently. She wanted to eat, engaged well with her brothers, and seemed a little happy. But at 5:30 p.m., she vomited blood. Meagan called the home nurse, who then called the doctor.
THE HARDEST GOODBYE
The doctor told Meagan to give pain relief to Winifred. Laurence arrived home just in time to cuddle his baby girl for the last time. Then at 9:14 p.m., little Winifred took her final breath. The painful moment was forever etched in the couple’s mind.
Perhaps the most challenging thing for the parents was explaining things to their sons. Cayden and Franklin cuddled their baby sister one last time and said goodbye. The Collards bid farewell to Winifred on July 1, 2019, 18 days before she turned two. Meagan recounted:
“There’s something about seeing your 5 year old carrying a tiny little casket that will break your heart and make you so proud all at the same time. He was always holding his little sister, and this was the last time he would ever get to.”
LIVING WITH THE PAIN
The Collards continued grieving, but they knew they had to remain strong for their boys. Cayden and Franklin missed their sister and suffered in their own way. Every time they saw a little girl, Meagan and Laurence were reminded of their beautiful girl in heaven.
Losing Winifred changed the Collards in several ways. The couple shared they stopped taking things for granted and lived every day to the fullest. Most importantly, Meagan realized how little awareness, funding, and support existed around childhood cancer.