Celebrating his 16th birthday and going to his high-school prom – today is a massive day for brave Brandon Ballance, who has battled cancer for most of his life.
And in the words of his proud mother, Sarah Nicholson, both occasions are milestone moments, as she did not think he would get the chance to experience them.
The plucky Amble lad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain-stem tumour when he was just two, and has had to endure rigorous bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Over the last few years, he had stabilised and was living a relatively normal life.
But at the end of 2017, just three days before Christmas, Brandon and his family received the devastating news that he had a tumour on his spine. The growth was removed during an operation in January, but Brandon is suffering with nerve damage and pain.
He is on a daily dose of medication and often feels tired and sick, while his mobility is limited.
Nicknamed The Champ by his loved ones, Brandon has certainly endured a tough ordeal during his long-running fight with cancer.
So turning 16 today and then wearing his tuxedo at tonight’s James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) prom is a huge chapter in Brandon’s story.
And these milestone moments are sure to be emotional for him and his family.
Sarah, 40, said: “I honestly didn’t think he would get to his 16th birthday and experience his prom. He has defied the odds and he has done so well.
“We are so proud of him. He continues the fight with so much courage and determination. He is such a beautiful, brave boy who is loved by so many.”
Alnwick Wedding Cars has kindly offered to take Brandon to his prom in an open-top Mercedes-Benz, while the birthday boy will celebrate turning 16 at a party tomorrow.
Sarah said: “He is really looking forward to his prom and it’s amazing how it’s his birthday on the same day. He is going to go to his prom and see how long he can manage and I know he will look amazing in his tuxedo.”
Because of Brandon’s poor health, he has missed a lot of school and he is re-sitting Year 11 next year. So the prom and his party will be the perfect chance for him to say goodbye to his friends.
Sarah, also mum to Sienna, 11, said: “Because of the nature of Brandon’s condition, he is home-schooled most of the time, but he does go into JCSC when he feels able to. He is up and down and he does have his off days. But the school has been amazing and supportive.”
Sarah admits that it was a bombshell when her son was diagnosed with a tumour just before Christmas last year, after all he has been through.
She said: “Brandon had been poorly for months and he had pains in his legs. A scan showed that he had a large tumour on his spine. It was such a shame. He was beginning to get some sort of life back and then he was diagnosed with this.”
While he had the tumour on his spine removed, life is still far from easy for Brandon.
Sarah said: “We are trying to get his pain under control. He is on morphine and amitriptyline, but they are making him like a zombie – he is fatigued and often feels sick.
“He can’t walk long distances and we take his wheelchair wherever we go. But despite all of this, he has never complained and never moaned. We are so proud of him.”