Emma van Klaveren Finlay delivers passionate speech at Charity Gala Dinner18 May 2022
The same day that lockdown was being imposed across the country, Emma and her family had just received the devastating news no parent wants to receive. Their two-year-old daughter, Florie, had been diagnosed with cancer.
Her passionate speech pulled no punches, and, whilst Emma was full of praise for the staff at St George’s, the mother of two demanded urgent action to improve the facilities for patients, family members and the staff at St George’s.
During what was already a challenging time for the nation with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK, Emma and her husband would take turns accompanying and comforting their younger daughter in a ward designed and built in the 1960s.
Read Emma’s speech in full:
“It was the 23rd of March 2020, the day Boris told us to lockdown. Our doctor took one look at the strange new bulge on our 2-year-old daughter’s side and told me that this was terrible timing-she would need immediate surgery. He sent us straight to A&E for tests.
"I couldn’t believe that this dim, tired ward was to be our home from home."
After a long wait, two kind doctors came into our room looking serious and pained. They told me that our perfect beautiful Florie had Stage 4 Wilm’s tumour, kidney cancer that had spread to her lungs. I felt numb. I couldn’t process what they’d told me. We were referred to The Royal Marsden in Sutton and so the nightmare began during the Pandemic.
We spent a month at the Marsden beginning chemotherapy treatments to shrink her tumour. Florie’s beautiful red curls began to fall out, she vomited constantly, she howled in pain as her large tumour squashed the surrounding organs. She was chronically constipated from the morphine.
She lost her appetite and was fed through a nastrogastric tube. We had to hold her down repeatedly to endure unpleasant but vital procedures. My husband and I did 48-hour shifts to be by her side and also care for our other daughter at home.
Finally, the day came for Florie’s tumour and right kidney to be removed at our local St George’s Hospital. The amazing surgeon and his team removed her right kidney and 80% of the tumour. Florie spent 24 hours in PICU or Paediatric Intensive Care, under the diligent care of medical experts.
Florie’s left lung collapsed on the first night, but the brilliant doctors intervened. She was strapped up to what seemed like hundreds of pumps, computer screens and wires but the attentive nurses were always on hand to reassure us.
"Amongst all of these desperately poor facilities are the medical staff who are quite simply first class."
Florie was moved to Pinckney Ward to recover, a ward designed in the 1960s. I couldn’t believe that this dim, tired ward was to be our home from home. The walls are dull and lifeless, there is no colour, nothing to suggest that children are treated here. I remember sitting by Florie’s bedside wondering how could anyone think this was ok for a children’s ward? The window blinds are damaged so you can’t always open them to let daylight in or keep daylight out.
The washing facilities are miserable, nowhere to wash you and your child. There’s no feeling of intimacy or privacy. Parents are given a short plastic sofa to sleep on. This is not a place for a child, let alone a desperately ill child and their family.
Amongst all of these desperately poor facilities are the medical staff who are quite simply first class. I’ll never forget the nurses who distracted Florie when she had to have yet another painful needle in her little toddler hands or chest, who hugged me when I was sobbing, the doctors who made swift decisions and saved her life many times over.
The amazing Play Team were always on hand with treats, toys and fun activities to distract from the pain and help pass the time. The wonderful Community Nurses who are such a lifeline at home with a poorly child. The Ward staff have nowhere to take a break, to change or to eat in private on the Ward. Their computers and desks are stuffed in corridors and the limited office space is dark and cramped.
Florie spent many weeks on Pinckney Ward receiving endless medication, X-rays, scans, blood transfusions, tests, further operations and daily expert care. St. George’s always patched us up. Our time on the ward has lessened considerably now as my daughter continues to make a good recovery, with a year of clear scans so far. However, there will be many families who are beginning their nightmare today. These paediatric facilities are simply not good enough for our children, their families and for our precious medical staff.
The situation has to change. Right now. This hospital must be provided with 21st-century facilities to match the world-class care that is happening every day in the hospital. This is just a snippet of my daughter’s ongoing experience. Many days since diagnosis have been very dark and difficult to navigate through but thanks to the attention from St George’s Hospital staff, they have guided me and my family to where we are today.”