Hundreds attend funeral of British girl who was 'true face' of childhood cancer

Andrew Whelan's photo of his daughter (above) was shared worldwide after he posted it on Facebook.
Andrew Whelan's photo of his daughter (above) was shared worldwide after he posted it on Facebook.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ANDREW WHELAN

Hundreds of people have attended the funeral of a young girl whose image as the "true face"  of the pain and suffering of childhood cancer went viral worldwide on social media.

Jessica's father, electrician Andrew Whelan, published a heartbreaking photo on Facebook of his daughter writhing in agony in what were the last few weeks of her life.

His daughter died aged four on Nov 20 after a year-long battle against neuroblastoma, a rare aggressive cancer of the nervous system that mostly affects babies and young children.

Over 400 people arrived to pay their respects to Jessica on Monday (Nov 28) at the little girl's funeral in her hometown of Oswaldtwistle, in the northern county of Lancashire in Britain.

As a procession led by police horses made its way through the town, mourners clutched keyrings made by Jessica's schoolfriends and let off balloons in memory of the fun-loving youngster, said the Daily Mail.

Speaking after the service, Mr Whelan said: 'It was overwhelming to see that amount of people in the church. The amount of support people have shown makes me very emotional, I just had to look down through my tears.

'We've been to see her daily at the funeral director's and saw her yesterday one last time to hold her hand and give her a kiss.'

Her death was announced on Facebook by her father on Nov 20.

“I feel both sadness and relief in informing you all that Jessica finally found peace at seven o’clock this morning,” he wrote. “No longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints of her body.”

Jessica’s family had started a fund-raising page on Oct 7 to raise money to help give Jessica “as much happiness and enjoyment as possible” in the short time she had left.

The page had raised more than £75,000 (S$133,000) when it was closed earlier this month (Nov) because of the little girl’s worsening condition. The family said the money would be donated to childhood cancer research.

Mr Whelan posted a picture he entitled “the true face of cancer” – a black and white image of four-year-old Jessica crying and writhing in pain – accompanied with 490 words on Facebook. The image has been shared nearly 20,000 times on Facebook.

Mr Whelen described "my baby girls blood vessels protruding from beneath her skin, a solitary tear running down her cheek, her body stiffened and her face contorted in pain".

“As a photographer it is important to capture the truth and the reality of a situation,” wrote Mr Whelan.

“This is the hardest photograph I have ever made. It is in fact my own four-year-old daughter.

“This photograph was made in a moment that we as parents could offer her no comfort, her pushing us away whilst she rode out this searing pain in solitude.”