Courageous Edith's celebrity Christmas cook-along

An inspirational young patient who was treated on Southampton Children Hospital's Piam Brown ward has had her courage celebrated by celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

EdithCoombes2020 resizedSeven-year-old Edith Coombes, who finished treatment for cancer during the lockdown, was treated to a festive themed virtual cook-along hosted by the Michelin-starred chef to launch this year’s Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx.

She joined a small group of brave young cooks affected by cancer for whom Christmas came early, as the French restaurateur gave them an online masterclass in making his ‘‘Joyeux Noël’’ Christmas pancakes with spiced cranberry sauce.

After his youngest son Valentino was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, Jean-Christophe knows all too well the devastating impact the disease can have on children like Edith.

The chef’s tutorial marked the start of what will be an extra special festive season for the youngster – her first since completing 26 months of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at Southampton Children's Hospital in May this year.

Edith, from Hedge End, was diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2018, not long after starting in Year R at school and repeatedly coming down with what was initially thought to be a virus. A bone marrow biopsy eventually confirmed it was cancer and she was admitted to hospital and began intensive chemotherapy.

She lost her long blonde hair and had to have her head shaved twice. She also had repeated stays in hospital and underwent regular lumbar punctures which required a general anaesthetic.

Edith and her family marked the end of her treatment while they were shielding at home. They had to replace the ringing of the bell on the hospital ward with a makeshift banging of pots and pans, on a video call with family and friends.

Dad Lewis, 38, said: “We had always had this endpoint of May 4 – we were going to go to the Piam Brown ward and ring the bell, have a big celebration with family and friends and go to Disneyland. But instead we found ourselves in lockdown, the holiday cancelled and no option of a party.

“It wasn’t quite the ending we had planned, but what lockdown did give us was time to compute everything we were going through and that was helpful for us all to be at home, together.

“This will be our first Christmas in many years that Edith won’t be having chemotherapy. No parent wants to wake their child up on Christmas Day and tell them it’s time to take your chemo. It will make this year extra special for us and we are really looking forward to a nice, normal family celebration.”

Mum Kathryn, 37, added: “It’s a relief to have reached the end of treatment, but now we have a new worry and anxiety that it’s going to come back. Every ache, pain or high temperature makes you panic, but we know we are not alone in those feelings and it’s something we need to learn to live alongside.

“We are so proud of Edith. She has amazed us all with her bravery and resilience and that’s why we nominated her for a Star Award, because we felt she deserved something special to recognise that.

“To have this chance to cook alongside a celebrity chef has just been incredible. Cooking is something she really enjoys and pancakes are her favourite. She wolfed down her finished dish as soon as Jean-Christophe gave her the thumbs-up!”

The Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx, celebrate the courage of children and young people across the UK who have been diagnosed with cancer. They are open to all under-18s who currently have cancer or have been treated for the disease in the last five years.

There is no judging panel because the charity believes every child diagnosed with cancer deserves special recognition. Everyone nominated receives a trophy, a t-shirt, a certificate signed by celebrities and a £50 TK Maxx voucher.

Jean-Christophe Novelli is raising awareness of the scheme after Valentino, 4, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a cancer of nerve cells left behind from a baby’s development in the womb. He was just six weeks old at the time.

On meeting Edith, he said: “I was in bits when Valentino was diagnosed and had to watch as he endured two years of intense treatment. Knowing what children with cancer have to face, giving a little bit of excitement through what I love and to see Edith and the kids have fun and try something like the cook-along was beautiful.

“It was my absolute pleasure to meet her, she is an amazing, bubbly character who made everyone laugh and smile. During the cook-along Edith was very entertaining. She was the youngest child to take part and I was really struck by her confidence as well as her bravery and positivity about life. It was great how she was so happy to talk throughout, telling me all about her family and her sister Eleanor.”

“To have something like the Star Awards to recognise the children and their courage when they go through so much – it is fantastic and it all helps with that boost you need as a family. Now I want to help spread the word, so that across Hampshire as many children affected by cancer as possible have the opportunity to be nominated.” 

Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults – from the types of cancer, to the impact of treatment. That’s why Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People is supporting dedicated research to improve survival and reduce long-term side effects for youngsters like Edith.

TK Maxx is the biggest corporate supporter of Cancer Research UK’s work into children’s and young people’s cancers. Since the partnership began, the retailer has raised over £40 million for research to help ensure more children and young people survive with a good quality of life.

To nominate a Star visit cruk.org/starawards.