Girl behind heartbreaking cancer photo dies aged 4

Jessica Whelan (Andrew Whelan / Facebook)
Jessica Whelan (Andrew Whelan / Facebook)

The four-year-old girl who captured the world's hearts after her father shared a haunting photo of her battle with cancer has died.

British girl Jessica Whelan was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma in September last year.

This October, her father Andrew captured the heartbreaking image of her painful fight with the disease, shortly after they'd been told she only had weeks to live.

She died at 7am on Sunday (local time).

"No longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints of her body," Mr Whelan wrote on Facebook.

Mr Whelan shared a touching tribute to his daughter on her Facebook page, thanking everyone who had been a part of their journey.

"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. 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.

"It seems like this is what she needed to finally allow her to find comfort in her passing as within eight hours of this cuddle she finally took her final breath."

Neuroblastoma is the most common form of child cancer worldwide, composed of a tumour that steals maturing nerve cells in the brain and converts them into cancer cells.

When he took his emotional photo, Mr Whelan said it was important to capture "the truth and the reality of the situation".

"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," he wrote.

"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."

On Sunday, he said he was honoured to call Jessica his daughter.

"I love you more than words can convey, much more than you will ever know."

A GoFundMe page created by the Whelan family raised more than $171,000. Mr Whelan has asked anyone thinking of his daughter to donate to Neuroblastoma UK, which is working to find a cure.