I lost my job for taking time off to take Skye to chemo, strangers paid my bills
A SINGLE mum lost her job after taking too much time off for hospital appointments as her 11-year-old daughter battled leukaemia.
Christina Harris, 45, from Rayleigh, Essex, dropped everything to be by her 10-year-old daughter Skye’s side.
While the single mum-of-two initially felt her job of 19 years as an estate agent negotiator was safe, this fell apart a year after Skye’s diagnosis.
Legally, companies do not have to offer a break for parents of a sick child.
Strangers donated £20,000 to help pay the family’s bills.
But in support of more families that will undoubtedly face the same tragedy, Christina has launched a petition calling for the government to improve the rights of parents caring for seriously ill children, and ensure their jobs remain secure while overseeing their treatment.
She said: “Overnight, I became a full-time carer to Skye when she was diagnosed with cancer. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to hear those words.
“My life very quickly became medication, chemotherapy, general anaesthetics, lumbar punctures, bone-marrow biopsies, countless admissions to hospital, blood infections and more.
“How would it have been possible to work at the same time?
“How was I supposed to live without any money coming in?
“I felt like I had to choose between my daughter and my work.
“Employers should be required to grant special breaks for parents in this situation enabling them to return to their jobs afterwards.”
Life turned upside down
In December 2021, Skye, now 11, had complained to Christina of a pain in her ribs – but the GP said it could be anxiety.
Unhappy, Christina took Skye to Southend Hospital A&E where a scan revealed Skye’s lungs were filled with pneumonia which was causing the pain. But a blood test revealed something more sinister.
They were transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, and on December 7, 2021 Skye was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
There are around 790 new acute lymphoblastic leukaemia cases in the UK every year, and 253 deaths.
Christina said: “We stayed in the hospital for 11 days until the middle of December and then I was given a lot of medication to take home, and medical appointments were arranged.
“It was devastating. Of course, I didn’t want to leave Skye on her own and as a single mum, there was no one else to support her.
“I got an initial call from work while I was there and they told me not to worry and they’d help as much as they could.”
The boss of Christina’s company said her four-day-a-week job was safe, but they wouldn’t be able to pay her while she was off.
“But I needed to be with her all day and all night,” Christina said. “She was so poorly.
“I was shocked. I thought my wages would be reduced, but to get nothing – how was I supposed to pay my mortgage or bills or even buy food?
“Skye was on a two-and-a-half-year treatment plan – I had no idea when I’d be able to go back to work.
“I spent my days with Skye and applied for benefits at night.”
After seeing Christina struggling, a friend started a GoFundMe page and kindhearted strangers donated an incredible £20,000 to help pay Christina’s mortgage while she looked after Skye.
It helped Christina through the first three months – as she had no other income.
And it took nine months for Christina to be awarded Universal Credit, Skye’s disability living allowance and a carer’s allowance in September 2022 – it wasn’t backdated.
Strangers supported me
Christina, who is also mum to Marley, 13, said: “I don’t know what we would have done without that money – donated from kindhearted strangers. It’s awful for any parent to be put in this situation.
“I’d worked for 19 years and when I needed help, there was nothing for me.
“It took nine months to get all the benefits I was entitled to – what was I supposed to do until then?”
Christina also set up another GofundMe page to raise money to keep her children smiling through the hard times. Strangers donated nearly £10,000.
Skye endured eight months of intensive chemotherapy. During this time, her condition improved but Skye suffered serious side effects including a number of infections.
Every time she had a high temperature, Christina had to take her to hospital within the hour.
It was followed by daily chemotherapy alongside regular lumbar punctures and other procedures.
In September 2022, Skye reached a maintenance stage of treatment as she became leukaemia cell free.
In January 2023, Christina had a meeting with her employer and was told they could no longer keep her job open unless she could return to work – and her previous office time and hours.
She couldn’t commit to this due to Skye’s treatment and appointments, so she lost her job.
Instead, she was offered two days a week doing admin for the company from home, on less money that just about covered her mortgage costs.
She said: “The admin role doesn’t cover my outgoings but it’s a huge help still.
“We are generally at home every day, which is more utility bills and food bills too.
“All my bills have probably doubled since she was diagnosed, which doesn’t help my situation.
“Financially my family has helped me a little bit but obviously they can only help me so much.”
Skye is now in a maintenance stage, due to finish treatment in March 2024. When she’s well enough, she attends school.
But she requires daily chemo for two years to maintain being clear, as well as weekly blood tests.
If her blood is low, she has to be isolated. At times, she’s isolated for six weeks.
Christina’s biggest goal is to get to the end of Skye’s treatment without any major health or financial problems.
She also doesn’t want other families to be in the same position as her.
Her petition has more than 70,000 signatures, calling on the government to require employers to grant special breaks to parents of sick children.
Posting on the Parliament petition page, Christina said: “Parents shouldn’t face losing their jobs on top of dealing with the possibility of losing their child.
“I feel this is the responsibility of the Government to protect the parents of seriously ill children, with no choice other than to drop everything to care for their children.
“Please, this needs to be addressed immediately. I have spoken to so many parents with caring responsibilities that are struggling financially, which then becomes a huge emotional burden and all this could be avoided if there was something in place to help desperate parents.
“This is URGENT!”
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