It’s every family’s worst nightmare and something Debbie and Mark Ansell and their daughter Hannah, tragically know too well. The horror of a loved one fighting for life in a childrens’ oncology ward.
Thirteen-year-old Connor Ansell of Glenbrook lost his three-and-a-half-year battle with leukemia in 2016, but his legacy lives on.
While alive, Connor and his family developed Connor's Christmas Hug Bags – a present for parents stuck in a cancer ward on Christmas Day. They are continuing the tradition this year and asking for help from the public with gifts.
The Ansells spent three miserable Christmases with Connor in a hospital cancer ward themselves – “tag teaming” in 2012, 2013 and 2015, so Connor’s older sibling, Hannah, could still experience a normal Christmas.
“It’s a hard gig, you’re split from your family, you’re tired, often it’s just very quiet on Christmas Day,” Mrs Ansell said.
“It’s a horrible experience, you feel you are in a living nightmare. I thought to myself, what would take your mind off being away from the rest of your family? The toys are coming in thick and fast for the kids, but it’s our way of trying to make things a little better for the mums and dads.”
Connor was diagnosed with the blood cancer on Christmas Eve in 2012, at age nine.
“He was in and out of hospital having chemo treatment through 2013. In 2014 he was in remission and had a really good year. By early 2015, he was elected Glenbrook Public School captain. Sadly the leukemia came back and he relapsed not long after.
“For most of 2015, he really wasn’t well and spent a lot of time in hospital. We had transfusions all the time, I have these beads for every procedure. It probably goes across the length of this room.”
At the start of 2016 Connor was having experimental trial procedures and waiting on a bone marrow donor.
“But the leukemia came back with a vengeance. He went to St Columba’s High for Year 7, that was all he wanted to do – start high school. ”
Before they had a chance to go to America for more experimental procedures he passed away on April 12, 2016. “The leukemia had a mind of it’s own. Maybe we were only meant to have him for 13 years,” his mum said.
The family has expanded the Christmas giving project to 60 bags, incorporating Westmead Childrens’ Hospital and Sydney Childrens’ Hospital at Randwick. Connor spent time at both.
A note in the bag says: “We understand what you’re going through, this is from a family who has been in hospital for three years ourselves and this is Connor’s way of helping you out”.
“I don’t tell them he’s passed because I can’t really write that on the note.”
In previous years they have filled the bags with shower gels, skin care, candles, chocolates, wine, puzzles, a Christmas bauble, socks, slippers, grown-up colouring books, pencils, deodorant and washers.
I would always give him hope and that’s what this bag is about.Debbie Ansell, mother
“We are fortunate we have candles, wine and Arbonne skin care products already. This year we are asking for more donations for anything parents would appreciate or a financial donation so we can purchase things,” Mrs Ansell added.
She said the bags are about hope.
“We never lied to Con. We would always say ‘This is what’s going to happen,’ but I would always give him hope and that’s what this bag is about. Connor was always thinking of others first and loved hugs.
“You would get your bad news and out of the blue Connor would say ‘Mum, can I have a hug’. That was all he would say. In his mind a hug makes things better. Hence the inspiration for Connor’s Christmas Hug Bag.”
Donations can be delivered to the Gazette at 274 Macquarie Road, Springwood, until December 14. Readers can also donate cash for gifts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenbrook Public is also holding a fundraiser. On December 6 students will dress in Connor’s favourite football team’s colours and donate $2 each.