Holiday Inn Norwich worker speaks of son’s battle against leukaemia

Norwich couple Cathy and Tim Ashwell were devastated when their youngest son Robbie was diagnosed with leukaemia within the first year of his young life.

Their lives were torn apart and they had to split their time between Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and their Hellesdon home. Young Robbie, now three, had to undergo intense chemotherapy and has been in and out of hospital ever since.

Now, two years on, Mr and Mrs Ashwell, who live in Nursery Close, off Middletons Lane, have been given a finish date of June 1 for Robbie's treatment.

And today, Mrs Ashwell, 37, said she wanted to thank everyone who has given her support over the last 24 months, particularly the team at Holiday Inn Norwich North where she has worked for 10 years.

She said: 'It's been traumatic to say the least. It opens up your eyes to a whole new world. I didn't know anything about leukaemia when they first diagnosed him.

'You meet people along the way who are in a similar situation and we have been to other children's funerals over the last year – we count ourselves lucky because we still have him. He has responded very well to the treatment and he has come a long way.'

Young Robbie had been unwell in February 2009 and Mrs Ashwell took him to see the doctor a couple of times. At first Mr and Mrs Ashwell, who have an older son Sam, now six, thought it was a chest infection.

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It was when Mrs Ashwell rang NHS Direct, however, that she realised Robbie had a rash on his knee and was told to rush him to the hospital. It was then that blood tests were taken and he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Robbie had to spend three months at hospital while he underwent treatment. Her husband Tim, 39, and Sam would spend the week in Norwich while she stayed in Cambridge. They would then swap at the weekends.

'It was awful, absolutely horrendous,' she said. 'You're having to split yourself. I only saw Sam for a week at a time. Luckily we've got a close network of family.'

At the time, Mrs Ashwell had only been back at work for two months after returning from maternity leave. She then had to take most of the rest of 2009 off.

She eventually returned to work in January 2010 but even then has had to call in at the last minute because she has had to dash to the hospital with Robbie.

Mrs Ashwell, who works part time as a reservations agent and whose husband is a self-employed carpenter, said: 'I told the hotel about the diagnosis the day after we were sent to Cambridge and they have been extremely supportive and caring ever since.

'It was not even just initially. I went back and agreed to hours which suited me but then suddenly I would have to ring up and say that Robbie's had to go to hospital, I can't come in.

'I felt as though I was letting down the department and the guilt that I felt. But they were so understanding and never hinted at getting rid of me.

'I would not have coped without friends and family, but in particular, the support I have received from the hotel. I just want the hotel, and in particular Devin and Karen, to know how grateful I am that they have continued to value me as an employee through this difficult time. I really enjoy my job and feel I am very lucky to work for a company that are so compassionate even when times are hard.'

During Robbie's treatment, the hotel also hosted Mr and Mrs Ashwell's wedding reception and helped make the day go as smoothly as possible for the couple.

Karen Lawrence, human resources manager at the hotel, said: 'We were all devastated when we heard about Robbie as soon as we heard about the diagnosis.

'It was a case of giving Cathy the flexibility she needed to fit in work around the hospital appointments. We have 200 members of staff here with lots of families and lots of people from the local area and that makes a big difference. As an employer, when people are good at their jobs, it is important to support them and do anything you can to make it easier for them. Robbie looks absolutely wonderful and it's great news that they have got a finish date for his treatment.'

Have you got a story about a brave youngster battling a life-threatening illness? Call Evening News reporter Kate Scotter on 01603 772326 or email