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Parents pay tribute to Cumbrian girl who had three dying wishes

Naomi Bernard’s life has been an inspiration to everybody who knew her.

Naomi Bernard photo
Naomi Bernard

She was just a month and a half from her sixth birthday when she lost her battle with a rare form of cancer.

Yet despite her experience, this remarkable little girl faced her illness with unfailing courage, her bright smile and caring nature bringing comfort and hope to everybody around her.

For the first time since Naomi died on July 15 last year, her proud parents Rob and Jen, from Brigham, near Cockermouth, have this week spoken of how their first child gave them strength.

Jen, 34, revealed also how their little girl had made three very special wishes.

The first was that her mum should have another baby; the second that she could have a dream holiday at Disneyland; and the third that her best pal Cerys, six, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2010, could one day be cured.

The first two wishes have already been granted – and all the signs are hopeful too that Naomi’s friend will soon be given the all clear.

That care for others was a defining feature of Naomi’s short life, said Jen, who along with Rob, a 37-year-old Sellafield worker, has helped organise a fundraising walk for the Carlisle charity that made their daughter’s Disneyland wish come true.

“It all started on August 12, 2009,” said Jen, a carriage driving instructor.

“It was bedtime and we were just getting Naomi ready for the bath when we saw a lump the size of half a tennis ball pop out from beneath her rib.

“I’m not a panicky parent at all, but I took one look and decided we had to get to the doctor’s right away.”

Within a few days, medics had diagnosed that Naomi had a rare cancer of the kidneys, known as Wilms tumour.

Asked about how their daughter coped with the illness, Jen said: “She was more bothered that we were upset. I remember sitting in the ward at the hospital in Whitehaven, and trying to ring my mum. They wouldn’t at that stage tell me what was wrong, but I knew it was serious.

“When I got my mum’s answer-phone, I just burst into tears, and said: ‘I just want somebody to talk to.’

“Naomi looked at me, and said: ‘Well, I’m here mum – you can talk to me.’

“It was exactly the kind of child she was, always thinking about other people’s feelings. She wanted everybody to be happy, even throughout all her treatment, and it rubbed off on everybody around her.

“She was only five, but she was such a giving child. If we were having a clear out of toys, she always wanted to give them to other children who didn’t have toys of their own. She understood that some children don’t have money to buy toys of their own.”

In the weeks and months that followed the diagnosis, Naomi repeatedly made the gruelling journey to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) and Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for treatment.

With the tumour removed, and after more than 30 weeks of follow up-treatment, Jen and Rob dared hope their daughter would recover.

Sadly, a scan showed the cancer had spread to Naomi’s lung. “They were still hopeful it could be treated,” said Jen.

The ordeal softened by the work of specialist play nurses at the RVI.

Jen and Rob were again hopeful when in October 2010 the scans showed that Naomi’s tumour appeared to be shrinking. But the cancer refused to be beaten.

Jen said: “It was a really aggressive tumour, and it learned quickly how to get round the chemotherapy.”

When all hope seemed to fade, Rob and Jen pleaded with doctors to give their child a third block of treatment – something not normally done with children.

“How can you tell me that somebody that bright, and cheerful does not deserve another go?” Jen asked the senior doctor.

In December, as Christmas approached, Naomi underwent surgery to remove the half of her lung where the tumour was lodged.

“She was still really chirpy, and didn’t mind being in hospital for Christmas.”

When a new tumour appeared in the top of Naomi’s lung, it was clear that her cancer was unstoppable.

Jen recalled an emotional family trip to Keswick in March 2011 when Naomi asked for money for the wishing well at Tithebarn Corner.

As they all watched the three coins rolling away, Naomi made her wishes.

Jen said: “Her first wish was for a baby brother or sister. (She used to look at me, and say: ‘You are going to have a baby mum); then she wished for a trip to Disneyland; and last of all she wished for Cerys to be well.”

Carlisle’s veteran charity king Geoff Brown made the Disneyland trip come true in June last year.

Despite her being very tired, the holiday gave Naomi and her parents five memorable and magical days.

“It was something we’d never have been able to afford ourselves,” said Jen. “It was all very cheerful, and the staff were fantastic.”

Naomi’s first wish – for a baby brother or sister – was granted seven weeks ago, with the arrival of Ben.

Although she never lived to see her baby brother, Naomi knew he was on the way.

Jen said: “If you’d seen the smile on her face when she worked it out. I found out when we got back from Disneyland.

“At that stage, Naomi was quite poorly, and had to be carried up to bed. But she was over the moon when she found out I was pregnant: it was the biggest smile I’d ever seen her produce. It was what she really, really wanted, and it was as if she’d hung on for everything she wanted to be in place.”

Naomi’s final wish – for the good health of her friend – was yet another example of her care for others. Friends throughout their lives, they had supported each other while in hospital.

Jen said: “Things are looking very positive for Cerys. She’s in remission and is now in what they call the maintenance stage of treatment.”

Jen and Rob have played a key part in organising Geoff Brown’s Walk for Wishes, which will raise funds to help other sick children.

Jen explained: “We wanted to help the Geoff Brown Charitable Trust so he can help other children.”

She added: “We have photos of Naomi up all over the house, and she’s smiling of most of them because that’s the kind of child she was.

“It feels like she’s been there, watching over us. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that I’ve been able to sit and look properly at the photos and think that she’s not suffering any more.”

“She was such a positive, and caring person.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re helping with the walk for the Geoff Brown Trust: we’re trying to continue with what she was like.”

The Geoff Brown Walk for Wishes event will set off from Rosthwaite, near Keswick, on July 12, and reach his home, Albert Cottage, Harker, on July 14. It will conclude with a fund-raising party and hogroast, celebrating Naomi’s life. Sponsors can contact Geoff, who runs various businesses, on 07860 873050, or by email on info@geoffbrowncharitabletrust.org.uk.

Have your say

An inspiration to us all....least we remember this little girl could teach us all something about life.

Posted by James on 20 April 2012 at 17:21

I am sitting here with my morning Tea in my office and I stumbled across this article. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. What a remarkable little girl. She is the epitome of altruism. The angels are looking after her and God has other plans for her. My thoughts go out to her parents who must be comforted in knowing what a special little girl she really is.

Posted by Shaun on 20 April 2012 at 13:39

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