This is the poignant moment a devastated father ‘married’ his tiny daughter after being told that she had just two days to live.
Dad Andy Barnard, 31, had always vowed that one day his only daughter would have the wedding of her dreams. However, in a cruel twist of fate, his beloved Poppy-Mai, 16-months, was diagnosed with a rare and fatal brain tumour – and given just two days to live.
In light of the bleak prognosis, Andy’s RAF colleagues hastily arranged a ‘wedding’ day for Poppy-Mai and the beautiful little bride was ‘married’ to her hero father. Little Poppy-Mai was escorted to the aisle by her mother Sammi Barnard, 29 and big brothers Rylee, six and Jenson–Jay, four.
“From the moment we found out Poppy-Mai was a girl I’ve said she’d have the wedding of her dreams one day.
“I never ever thought it would be like this. Our hearts are broken forever, but I wanted to keep my promise to my princess. It wasn’t how I imagined, but she got her wedding day.”
It was a mere six weeks ago that the Bernard family had their world completely turned upside down.
On February 14 Poppy-Mai’s mum Sammi took her daughter to the doctors. The usually playful tot had gone off her food and drink and was constipated with a distended tummy.
Sammi had also noticed that the toddler seemed off balance. After visiting their GP, the little girl’s symptoms were put down to teething and she was prescribed a laxative. But Poppy-Mai soon grew worse and Sammi noticed a lump appear under her rib cage.
Now refusing all food and drink and unwilling to walk, Sammi took her back to the doctor ten days later. This time, a different doctor prescribed her daughter a stronger laxative. By the following afternoon Sammi had become increasingly concerned and drove her daughter to their local A&E.
The toddler, who had now started vomiting, was immediately admitted as medics battled to stabilise her. Sammi said: “Her calcium levels were way too high and they had to address that first before they could start to work out what was wrong.
“At the worst I thought she maybe had a really bad infection.”
Sammi’s father was serving with his squadron in America so was kept informed over the phone. However, it wasn’t good news and later that day an ultrasound revealed what appeared to be a mass in her stomach.
“The consultant sat me down and said: ‘You know this is much worse than constipation now don’t you?’ I did, but when he said they suspected cancer I was shocked.”
The distraught mum was then told that her daughter was thought to have Wilms – a type of kidney cancer in children. Sammi was then forced to break the awful news to her husband over the phone – and bosses arranged for him to be flown back to the UK.
Little Poppy-Mai was thrilled to see her daddy again – but there was bad news when a CT scan revealed the mass on her kidney had started to spread.
Her mum said:
“At that point we knew we had a battle on our hands but we had hope and vowed to do anything we could to save her.”
Doctors then diagnosed a malignant rhabdoid tumour in both her kidneys and lungs – a very rare and aggressive type of cancer and her parents were told that their precious tot’s chances of survival were slim.
Sammi said: “Even then we still had hope and. If there was a chance she might survive we had to believe in that chance.”
Poppy-Mai soon started chemotherapy and appeared to respond well, but on March 16 cancer was then found in her brain. The size and position of the tumour above her right eye meant that it was inoperable.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe we had been in hospital for four weeks and it had only just been found,” Sammi added.
The brave mum asked how much time her daughter had left and was told the awful news that Poppy-Mai would only live for two days without treatment. “I can’t even tell you how I felt because I was just in utter shock and disbelief. We just looked at each other trying to take it in.
“For someone to tell you that your daughter could be gone in two days is unfathomable,” she said.
Andy added: “I kept asking what they could do, I was sure there must be something.”
But the treatment could only prolong her life by a few weeks at most – and would come at a cost. “When they said it meant more chemo with painful side effects I told them no,
“I couldn’t put her through that. I couldn’t watch her suffer anymore to save our own pain and grief”, Sammi said.
When the parents told hospital staff that they wanted to take their daughter home to enjoy the time she had left pain-free, they were commended for their bravery.
Sammi said: “We didn’t feel brave, we felt utterly broken. But we felt sure we were doing the right thing.”
Sammi and Andy sat their sons down to explain that Poppy-Mai was coming home to spend time with them before she had to go to heaven and become a star. They returned to their home in Thetford the following morning and the next day on March 18th, Andy’s colleagues arranged for the wedding ceremony to take place. They dressed a function room with ribbons and balloons and Poppy-Mai made her grand entrance in her cousin’s christening gown.
Sammi said: “I couldn’t stop crying. Being our only daughter, we’d often talk about one day watching her get married.”
Poppy-Mai managed to stay awake for the beautiful ceremony and then fell asleep in her proud father’s arms. Every day since has been a blessing and the family are enjoying every precious minute they have left.
Sammi said: “My wish is for greater awareness in Poppy-Mai’s name. I gave birth to an angel and soon she will become one. The pain is indescribable but in talking about this other parents might be spared from losing a child.
“I want people to remember Poppy-Mai, remember the symptoms and know my daughter will have helped to save other lives.”