Posted on Monday 14 June 2021

in News

Esme’s Man-icure challenge: Dad let’s daughter paint his nails every week to help her smile during cancer treatment

Esme, 9 from Lingfield in Surrey, is receiving treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London after being diagnosed with leukaemia earlier this year. Her Dad, Richard, would do anything to make his little girl smile so, one day he let her paint his nails during a pamper session on the ward. Now, Richard, who can be permanently seen with the brightest nails in town, is encouraging others to join ‘Esme’s Man-icure challenge’ and help raise money for Young Lives vs Cancerwho have helped the whole family deal with the impact a cancer diagnosis brings. 

Esme painting her Dad's nails while receiving cancer treatment

Just before Christmas last year, Esme was feeling lethargic, sick and had no energy. Her parents initially put it down to lockdown and the pressures of not being at school with her friends. Then in early March her temperature rose to 42 degrees so her parents quickly phoned 111 and they ended up in A&E that night. After a night full of tests, there were given the shocking news that Esme had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).  

During her first round of chemotherapy, Esme’s mum was painting her nails to cheer her up.  To try and help put a smile on Esme’s face, Richard decided to join in and said Esme could paint his nails too.  

He says: “Esme wouldn’t let me go for the subtle pink polish she was having, I had to go full-on, with the brightest sparkliest red nail polish she could find. “Fair enough,” I thought, “it’s only for a short while, I’ll take it off later”… her smile was worth it. 

“But that smile got even bigger as Esme let me know in no uncertain terms that my foray into fantabulous nails had to last an entire week.  A week that she knew would be full of school runs, zoom calls with work, a hospital move (with all the new faces that would bring) and plenty of other opportunities to show her wonderful handiwork to the world….and so ‘Esme’s Man-icure Challenge’ was born.”” 

Esme and her family then encouraged other friends and family to continue the trend by painting their fathers, brother’s, uncle’s and nephew’s nails as a way to raise funds for Young Lives vs Cancer (formally CLIC Sargent), who have helped them and so many other families going through childhood cancer. Esme loves the thought of being able to raise money and make an impact from her hospital bed at the Royal Marsden. 

Richard says: “It’s bringing Esme such joy seeing all the photos and hearing everyone’s reactions to having funky nails. Every new photo makes her laugh and she’s getting really excited by the total on her JustGiving page going up and up, as are all her classmates! 

“The whole thing has also created a really nice connection to all her friends and classmates at school where they’re keep a close eye on things, and still getting the nail varnish out each week.” 

To date, the family have raised over £8,300 for Young Lives vs Cancer. 

Richard says “When we got to Southampton Hospital, Young Lives vs Cancer staff were there for us immediately. They gave us two initial grants of £100 each to help with costs such as travel, parking and food which was a huge weight off our shoulders. The  Young Lives vs Cancer social workers also really helped my wife and I during those early days when we needed someone to talk to or wanted to discuss what was happening. The whole team were really helpful.” 

A cancer diagnosis can often be very hard on the young person’s siblings, especially as they adjust to their parents being away from home from long periods of time and their sibling no longer being at home. For Richard’s family, their Young Lives vs Cancer social worker, Lyn, has not only supported Esme and her parents, but has been there to support her siblings too. 

“Since we moved to the Royal Marsden, the Young Lives vs Cancer team there have arranged some art therapy through the charity ‘Momentum’ for our youngest daughter, Abi (aged six) so she has an outlet to talk about things. We wouldn’t have known anything about Momentum so that introduction from Lyn, our Young Lives vs Cancer social worker, has been really helpful.” 

Esme’s family wanted to do something to raise money for Young Lives vs Cancer after receiving such invaluable support. Setting up ‘Esme’s Man-icure challenge’ has not only helped to raise vital funds for the charity, whose fundraising was impacted hugely during the pandemic, but it has also helped to lift the spirits of the whole family and their many friends who have taken part, as well as becoming a talking point across the hospital too. 

“I walked in the Hospital main entrance the other day and the lady helping direct people said “Oh go ahead, I know you know where to go, I recognise your nail varnish!” 

“I usually stand out anyway as I’m 6 foot 5 and have a ginger beard, but to be recognised for my nail varnish rather than anything else is a new one for me.” 

Rose Bailey, Fundraising Engagement Manager at Young Lives vs Cancer, says: “We’re so grateful to Esme and her family for raising an incredible amount of money for Young Lives vs Cancer through this unique fundraising challenge.  

“Esme has undoubtedly had a really tough year so it’s wonderful to hear that her Manicure Challenge is bringing Esme some joy and making her laugh at this difficult time. We really hope as many people as possible get involved by painting their nails, sharing their photos and donating in support of Esme.” 

Esme’s family is asking everyone to get involved between now and Father’s Day on Sunday, June 20 by painting their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandads etc nails, or their own, to show Esme support and keep her smiling. And Esme would love if you could donate to Young Lives vs Cancer too. Be sure to share your photo with the hashtag #EsmesManicureChallenge so Esme can see all of the photos! 

Follow Esme’s journey and see all the photos so far here: (Link to Instagram page)  

Join Esme and Richard with their Man-icure challenge, or simply make a donation, by visiting:  


Notes to editors 

For more information, an interview or images, please contact Emma Gibbons on 07932 666163 or email at

About cancer in children and young people 

Today, 12 more children and young people in the UK will hear the devastating news that they have cancer. Treatment normally starts immediately, is often given many miles from home and can last for up to three years. Although survival rates are over 80%, cancer remains the single largest cause of death from disease in children and young people in the UK.  

About Young Lives vs Cancer 

When a child is diagnosed with cancer life becomes full of fear, for them and their family. Fear of treatment but also of families being torn apart, overwhelming money worries, of having nowhere to turn to, no one to talk to.  

Young Lives vs Cancer is the charity that helps children and young people (0-25) and their families find the strength to face whatever cancer throws at them. The charity’s social workers offer specialist, empowering support, its Homes from Home offer families a free place to stay nearby to the child’s hospital and grants help families to navigate the costs of cancer. We’ve been there before. We’ll face it all, together. 

For more information visit 

Note to sub editors 

Always use our name in full: Young Lives vs Cancer and write it with only the Y, L and C capitalised. But don’t capitalise ‘vs’.  

‘Young Lives vs Cancer’ should be not be abbreviated – it’s not “Young Lives” for short, nor “YLvC”

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