“I just thought she’d pulled something, so told Lily to rest it and see how it was in the morning,” mum Jane says. But that night the pain got worse, prompting Jane to apply some ibuprofen gel. It was then that she first felt the lump.
“I didn’t think in a million years that it could be cancer – Lily danced up to 30 hours a week, she couldn’t have been fitter or healthier,” Jane says.
Manager of the local Primark store, Jane had to go to work the next morning, so asked their childminder to take Lily for a check-up at their family GP.
“She ended up seeing a locum who sent them away, saying to come back if Lily developed a temperature,” Jane says.
Still in pain, Lily went back for a second opinion and got referred to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
“I still wasn’t worried, and had to work, so asked my mum to take her,” Jane says. “Mum was there all day and called to say I should come – she didn’t want to worry me, so just said she was tired and I had to take over, but the reality was far worse.”
At the hospital, doctors took Jane to one side and explained that scans showed a suspected tumour in Lily’s left shoulder.
“My first thought was that tumours are usually benign, and even though he mentioned surgery to remove it, I started explaining that she had competitions to go to, so we’d have to work out the dates. I had no grasp of how serious this was.”
It was only when Jane and Lily got back home that Jane registered the potential severity of the situation, calling the doctor at Ninewells to apologise and confirm their next steps.
A week later, on 28 April, when they went to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh for more tests and scans, the penny finally dropped.
“I remember sitting in the ward, seeing all those ill children going through treatment, and thought, ‘This is real – this might not be fine at all’,” Jane says.
Following the scans, a doctor approached Jane and told her Lily had Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that had spread to her shoulder, lungs and left leg.
Doctors told mum Jane, 48, that Lily would most likely need surgery to remove her leg and shoulder blade.
“They wouldn’t give any definite prognosis, but I could tell from the look on the consultant’s face that she was very worried,” Jane says.
“They basically said: ‘We will try to save her”. We spent the rest of the day going back and forth to different doctors to talk about treatments and tests.”
Lily would need six rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, then surgery to remove her shoulder blade and femur, and then a further eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy. While this would be devastating news for any family, for Lily this would take away her one true passion – dancing.
Lily, from Perth, had won over 80 dance trophies in every discipline, from street dance to freestyle, and even had an audition with the prestigious Scottish Ballet lined up.
“When I was given the news that Lily had a tumour and would need treatment, I literally had no idea how bad this was, how her life was hanging by a thread. For Lily to lose her leg and shoulder blade would’ve spelled the end of everything she lived for, but at that moment, we only knew she had a tumour, which I’d wrongly assumed would be benign.”
“Lily’s diagnosis was as grim as could be imagined,” Jane says. “Even if she survived the months of horrific treatment, without a leg bone or a shoulder blade, how could she ever dance again? Breaking the news to Lily was one of the darkest days of my life, but of course we had to stay positive.”
Doctors told Lily and her mum she had to take it easy during her treatment, which would sap all her energy – something they could all too easily see around them on that ward.
But throughout the gruelling – and still ongoing – rounds of chemo and surgery, the defiant youngster refused to heed their advice. Instead, she threw herself into her dancing even harder, winning eight major trophies and qualifying for the European Championships. She also carried on doing fun things with her friends, like getting to meet Little Mix before their concert in Dundee last year.
“The thing is, Lily’s life was dancing, so even if she wasn’t dancing, she wanted to be in the studio with her friends,” Jane says.
“She was used to dancing for up to five hours a day, so couldn’t help herself by joining in, which I was fine with – if she was going to have to stop dancing at some point, she might as well enjoy herself.”
It was after her second round of chemo that Jane entered her for a competition.
“We’d just shaved off her thinning hair, and she’d rejected the wig, so she decided to perform in a baseball cap,” Jane says. “But as she approached the stage, Lily decided she wanted to show everyone the real story, so threw it to one side. As she walked out, the whole auditorium suddenly went quiet and then everyone started cheering. Lily’s very popular in the local dance scene, so they’d assumed she wasn’t coming and had even had a collection to buy her a gift.”
That day in Glasgow, she won two huge trophies to add to her growing collection.
“It was so emotional,” Jane says. “There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen – the judges all came up to give her a massive hug, there was a standing ovation. After everything we’d been through, everything we had ahead, it was the most incredible boost.”
Then, after every subsequent round of chemo, Jane would take Lily to another competition, where, despite the effects of her treatment, she would carry on winning trophies to standing ovations.
“It was almost like her cancer made her more determined than ever to dance, to show this wasn’t going to beat her,” Jane says. “At first the doctors were worried she was overdoing it, but then they saw how strong she was, how her dancing actually helped her fight this – soon she became their little miracle girl.”
After her fifth cycle of chemotherapy, the family got incredible news – the suspected cancer in her leg had actually been an undiagnosed fracture, which has since healed.
“Hearing she wouldn’t need to have that bone removed was amazing,” Jane says. “She still needed to have her shoulder blade removed, but somehow we felt we could deal with that now.”
So, on 23 October, after her seventh round of chemo and a week after her 10th birthday, Lily went into theatre. The tumour was found to be right inside her shoulder, so the surgeons had no choice but to remove the entire left shoulder blade on top of a large mass of muscle and another small supporting bone.
“The operation had gone well in terms of removing the tumour, but there was almost nothing left of her shoulder – it was like her arm was tied to her body with a length of rope,” Jane explains.
But because of her fitness, the predicted three weeks recuperating in hospital turned into just three days, and Lily
was allowed home.
“Within five days, she was only taking one paracetamol a day to help with the pain, then nothing – I’ve taken more for a sore throat,” Jane says.
It was just two days later that Lily was back in the dance studio, with a sling, practising her steps. Then, on Saturday 18 November, she and some other members of her dance group danced up on stage with Alesha Dixon to turn on Perth’s Christmas lights.
“The whole town erupted when Lily appeared – she was more of a star than Alesha!” Jane says.
The following Sunday she went to Edinburgh for the Scottish Street Dancing Championships, coming second in the intermediates for the under-12s solo, and fourth in the advanced duo.
“She’d actually just had her eighth round of chemo, so was far from full fitness, which makes it all the more incredible,” Jane says. “If you watched her dance and ignored her bald head, you’d have no idea she could barely use one arm and had just had chemotherapy. Every time I see her dance now, it makes me cry to see her so happy.”
Jane says it still amazes her that Lily is so modest about her achievements.
“She’s got 94 major trophies now, so many we almost need a new room,” she says. ‘She added two more last Sunday, and has won 10 competitions since her diagnosis.”
“At the World Championships at the end of August, the event compère kept her on stage and talked about what an inspiration she was. Over 10,000 people gave her a standing ovation. When she came off stage, all she said was: “Well, that was embarrassing.’
“Right now, Lily still has six more rounds of chemotherapy to come, followed by six weeks of intensive radiotherapy. We know we’re far from out of the woods, but as long as she keeps dancing, I believe she can beat anything.”
Jane and Lily are supporting The CLIC Sargent Campaign to build a new home from home in Edinburgh. This home offers free accommodation near the hospital to families of children and young people with cancer, helping them stay together and saving them huge travel and energy bills