NINE-YEAR-OLD Lucy Foster is like any other little girl. She loves school, going to Brownies and playing with her little sister Eliza.
But unlike other children, Lucy has more responsibility than some teenagers twice her age.
Lucy is a young carer. Her mum Emma Foster has multiple sclerosis, which means she suffers with chronic fatigue and has limited mobility.
Within hours Emma can be overcome with exhaustion and has to attend regular clinics to treat her relapsing immune system.
The family’s morning routine is a struggle for Emma. Her husband John leaves for work early every day which means she relies on Lucy to help get four-year-old Eliza ready for school.
Emma, aged 36, was diagnosed with MS in 2003. She says she is incredibly proud of her “mini mum” Lucy.
“Nothing fazes Lucy. She just gets on with it,” Emma said.
“There are some things we don't let her do because she is a child and we don't want her to grow up too quickly.
“I'm so proud of her. I call her the ‘mini-mum’ because she’s so brilliant at helping me. I just want people to know what it's like for child carers.
"I'm sure there are a lot of other children like Lucy out there. We perhaps don't hear about them as much as we should.”
Talking to Lucy, it is clear she is very caring and responsible for someone so young.
Until recently, she had been reluctant to talk about her mum’s illness.
But now she wants to explain to her classmates at St Bede Academy in Morris Green about MS and how it affects her mum.
She has already done a presentation for her best friends at a sleepover and held a school bake sale for the MS Society.
Lucy said: “I try and help my mum with lots of things. I go up and down the stairs a lot to get things that she has left in her room.
"I take my little sister to bed, help her brush her teeth and I make her breakfast.
“I feed our cat Molly too. I don't feel like I have to do things. I feel like if mum needs help, she will ask me for it.
“I used to be really shy and didn't really talk about mum's illness very much. I used to bottle it up.
“I was scared about saying the wrong thing. It's not that I'm ashamed or anything. I was worried about being asked a question and not knowing the right answer.
“I'm very close to mum and go to her most of the time if I want to talk about it.
“One day I just came out with it to my three best my friends. I said the reason my mum has a stick is because she has MS and explained to them what it was.
“I don't think many people know about MS. It's not very common and it's not life-threatening like cancer. That's why I want to tell more people about it so they understand.”
MS is a condition of the central nervous system where the coating around nerve fibres — called myelin — is damaged. It causes a range of symptoms but not everyone’s are the same.
As well as fatigue, Emma has a constant “pins and needles” sensation all over her body. It also affects her spatial awareness and causes her a lot a pain.
When Emma’s immune system relapses about once a year, she suffers with what patients call the “MS hug” — a tight and painful cramp around her stomach and lower back.
Emma’s diagnosis changed her life. She was forced to quit her busy job as a hotel manager but almost immediately fell pregnant with Lucy after years of struggling to conceive.
She explained: “I went to the doctors with what I thought was trapped nerve. It was like there was a mirror down the middle of my body. I couldn't feel a thing down one side. Three months later doctors told me I had MS.
“John asked whether it was terminal and it wasn't so we said, ‘Okay, we'll deal with it’.
“It was strange because after I was diagnosed and left my job, I fell pregnant with Lucy.
“I think it was because of the change in lifestyle.”
The family still manage to lead a full and happy life at their home in Edge Hill Road, Morris Green.
Yet the mum-of-two admits she feels guilty about the things she is unable to do with her girls.
“I can't predict how I'm going to feel day to day so I tend not to make plans,” said Emma.
“I'd rather not let the girls down.
“We have had some very hard times but we’ve never hidden any of it from them.
“I feel terrible that I can't do simple things with them like walk to the park or sit on the bunk bed to read Eliza a story.
"We can't go abroad either because it would be too tiring. We just have to do different things like watch movies together.
“Lucy used to internalise things a lot and didn’t talk about my MS at all. I didn't want that.
“I wanted her to be able to open up and talk to different people about it, especially to people her own age.
“It's taken her a long time to get there. That's why I was so proud when she told me about her presentation.”