During a family holiday in Greece Charlotte Parr had a swollen tummy and was off her food, so her mum Susie took her to their local GP when they got home.
Charlotte, then three years old, was referred to Addenbrookes Hospital and, after weeks of tests, doctors diagnosed her with a rare combination of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia (JMML).
“The minute they say leukaemia your heart just sinks,” says Charlotte’s mum, Suzie. “I think a lot of people believe childhood leukaemia is quite straight forward to treat these days, but it’s not. There are so many different types.”
Charlotte received six months of punishing chemotherapy but responded well and all seemed well until her birthday in July 2009, when she relapsed. Charlotte needed an immediate bone marrow transplant and spent eight weeks in Great Ormond Street Hospital. Fortunately the operation was a success and Charlotte started school in May 2010.
Suzie says: “Research is vital. There’s still so much to find out: if they can find new treatments, which avoid the more horrendous drugs, it’ll lead to better outcomes for so many children.”
Ben Charlton was six years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, just one week after his grandfather lost his battle with cancer. Ben had been complaining of a poorly stomach before bedtime and in the morning before school. Mum Lynn initially thought he was just ‘playing up’ but when his symptoms persisted she took him to see their local GP.
“The doctor noticed immediately that Ben had swollen lymph glands and sent us to the Royal Victoria Infirmary for blood tests – I think he suspected that Ben had leukaemia straight away but he didn’t want to worry us,” says Lynn.
“It was just an absolute nightmare. I had just lost my father to cancer and I think everyone just thought that we’d crumble but I had to put my grief on hold for Ben’s sake.”
Happily Ben is responding well to treatment and is due to finish his maintenance therapy in March 2013. He has an orange belt in Taekwondo and is doing well at school. Lynn says: “Ben is just the cheeky chap he always was – you wouldn’t think that there’s anything wrong. We are just so grateful to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. If it wasn’t for the charity’s research we might be telling a very different story.”
Jessica Baldock from Edenbridge was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in March 2008 when she was 6-years-old.
She responded well and received her last chemotherapy treatment on 23rd May 2010. Jessica’s mother Diana says: “We’re so thankful that the good times have outweighed the bad, because we did go through some really tough experiences. Jessica was on and off chemotherapy a lot and at one point she was close to going in a coma.
“Normally, treatment will give patients an insatiable appetite but it was the opposite with Jessica and she struggled to eat anything. She went through a period of craving pepperamis which was very strange as she used to be such a sweet tooth.
“When the treatment got her down, we made sure we spent as much time together as a family. Jessica’s a twin, so they really missed each other. To cheer them up, we got a dog and Jessica named her Becky the boxer. Becky made a huge difference to Jessica’s confidence, giving her someone to come home to. When Becky needed a walk, Jessica would always take her out, even when she didn’t feel like going out.”
After falling asleep at nursery on a few occasions and a routine blood test last September showed Finlay had anaemia. His parents Tony and Tara were told he probably had a blood infection since his symptoms were not typical of leukaemia.
But they were completely shocked and devastated when further tests confirmed Finlay had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. He was just three and a half.
Their hearts were broken yet again when they were told the results from a pioneering test developed by our charity showed he was at high risk of relapse after treatment. Finlay need the highest (and most toxic) chemotherapy to give him the best chance of beating his blood cancer.
Dad Tony says: “It’s heartbreaking to see him go through all these treatments. I just wish I could go through all the pain so he doesn’t have to. We are eternally grateful to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research because Finlay would probably not be alive today if it wasn’t for the work they do.”