Phoebe's story

Bremner family

Before diagnosis

Angela and Chris Bremner wanted to have two children quite close together, so when their firstborn daughter Lucy reached 18 months, they decided to try for child number two. Phoebe came along soon after, completing their little family of four. Despite getting off to a rocky start, Phoebe always seemed a happy baby. Cuddly and smiley, she brought great joy to her family. But their time together would prove to be far too short.

Phoebe smiling


Born premature and weighing only 1.9 kg, Phoebe spent more than four weeks in the neonatal unit before she was able to go home. During a checkup tests revealed that Phoebe had experienced a brain haemorrhage during birth, and now had hydrocephalus − fluid on the brain. She had an operation to have a shunt put in, and was sent home. Phoebe wasn’t putting on much weight, and couldn’t sit upright or support her head weight. Three times they went back to hospital, and each time, they were told that Phoebe was fine. On the fourth visit, a scan was done. Phoebe had a brain tumour. It was two thirds the size of her head and had spread into her major arteries.

The tumour had grown to be two thirds the size of her head.

- Angela, Phoebe's mum

Phoebe in hospital


Angela was told that Phoebe would need an operation the next day. On the morning of the operation, Phoebe was taken to have pre-operation procedures done, and Angela and Chris were told to wait at home since it was going to take all day. But three hours later, they got a phone call. 

‘We knew it wasn’t good, because she was supposed to be in the operating theatre all day,’ says Angela. They went straight into the hospital, where their little girl lay on the verge of death. Sitting by her bedside, they were with her as she took her final breaths.

We got to sit in there with her as she took her last breaths.

- Angela, Phoebe's mum

Phoebe smiling

After death

An autopsy revealed that Phoebe had an aggressive brain cancer called grade 4 glioblastoma, which had been present but undetected at birth. However, the tumour was not the actual cause of death. Like her mother and sister, Phoebe was found to have a form of haemophilia called Von Willebrand’s disease. During the operation, the surgical team had needed to replace the blood in Phoebe’s body seven times. The cause of death was determined to be loss of blood.

In hindsight, we’re glad we got that time with her not knowing she was so sick.

- Angela, Phoebe's mum

Angela says she and Chris recognise that if Phoebe hadn’t died during the operation, she would have died later on from the tumour. And while they were upset and angry that the tumour had been missed, in a way they’re glad they didn’t know, and that Phoebe didn’t have to endure months of painful treatment.  ‘We’ve seen what people go through, and we’re glad we didn’t have that with Phoebe,’ she says. ‘We knew the end result wouldn’t have changed. We got quality over quantity.’

A new life

Angela and Chris had always wanted two children, so they decided a few months later to try for another child. At thirty-one weeks into pregnancy, Angela again went into early labour. Molly was born premature but healthy, just 12 months after Phoebe’s passing. 

As soon as she was old enough to understand that she’d had a sister, Molly felt a great sense of loss. As a family, they would go up to the cemetery every month to visit Phoebe’s grave. Angela says some days Molly would cry and say: ‘I wish I could die so I could meet Phoebe.’

Molly in pink jumper

We had days when Molly would cry and say, ‘I wish I could die so I could meet Phoebe.’

- Angela, Phoebe's mum

Molly smiling on athletics track

Molly's run

At 8 years of age, Molly has now decided that she wants to do something special for Phoebe. Inspired by Australian man Andre Jones, who set out to run around the whole of the country to raise money for charity, she started 'Molly's Run for Phoebe', and has chosen Children’s Cancer Institute as the beneficiary. ‘We researched all with her, and she decided what she wanted to do,’ says Angela. ‘She likes that Children’s Cancer Institute is trying to find a cure, so that other children don’t have to go through cancer like Phoebe. That’s what it’s about for her.’

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