It’s a sight no parents want to ever see — their child in pain.
Unfortunately, it’s a sight Andy Whelan saw far too often.
His 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, had been battling neuroblastoma, a cancer often found in the small glands on top of the kidneys, for over a year.
In late October, Jessica’s family was told she likely had only a few weeks to live, according to CBS.
As a father and photographer, Whelan wanted to find a way to remember his little girl, but it was far more painful than he could ever have imagined.
“This is the hardest photograph I have ever made, it is in fact my own 4-year-old daughter,” Whelan said. “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.”
The dad decided to post the heartbreaking photograph on Facebook to share the “truth and the reality” of his family’s situation.
“Too easy it becomes to capture the joy of life whilst discarding the torture that we see,” he explained.
In the photo, Jessica fought back tears as she writhed in pain in a hospital bed.
“This is the true face of cancer, my baby girl’s blood vessels protruding from beneath her skin, a solitary tear running down her cheek, her body stiffened and her face contorted in pain,” Whelan said.
Nearly 17,000 people shared the photo Whelan posted and more than 10,000 commented to show their support.
On Sunday, more than 3 weeks after the photo went viral, the dad gave an update. He announced — with both sadness and relief — that his daughter finally “took her final breath” after he held her in his arms for 8 hours.
“Last night she finally allowed me to hold her in my arms and we had a big cuddle as I told her how much I loved her,” Whelan posted on Facebook. “I told her again that it was okay for her to close her eyes and go to sleep and I kissed her forehead and her lips numerous times.”
The “heartbroken daddy” said he is thankful that his daughter no longer suffers or feels the pain of the physical constraints of her body.
“I feel like a massive part of me has just been torn away but I am so glad that I could give her that comfort in her final hours,” Whelan said. “She passed peacefully and calmly with not even a murmur.”
The dad still believes the painful black and white photo of his daughter speaks louder than words, and hopes that people will continue to join him in the fight against cancer.
“With this photo I do not mean to offend or upset, I do mean however to educate and shock those that see it in its context,” he said. “Perhaps by seeing this photo people not in our position will be made aware of the darkness that is childhood cancer, perhaps these same people may be able to do something about it so that in the future no child has to suffer this pain, so that no parent has to bear witness to their own flesh and blood deteriorating daily.”