Standing next to a snowman with a massive smile on his face, brave Bertie Miller-Grossett is delighted to be back home in Northumberland, after a gruelling spell of medical treatment in America.
The Warkworth youngster returned from the States last week, fresh from six weeks of specialised radiotherapy treatment, known as proton beam therapy.
The three-year-old needed the treatment after having a brain tumour removed in November.
And as Bertie gets back into the swing of life in Northumberland, there’s plenty of encouraging news.
Firstly, following his stint in Florida, medics believe that there is a good chance that the tumour will not return.
And secondly, Bertie is getting back to his old self and is on the mend.
Indeed, his first requests for when he arrived back home were tasty ice-cream from nearby Morwick Dairy and a swim at his favourite pool in Amble.
It’s a welcome relief for his loving parents, Gemma and Claire, who travelled overseas with Bertie and said he was a superstar.
Gemma said: “It’s been amazing to see him so well and happy and a normal life is what’s next for Bertie.
“His first requests for when we returned home were a visit to Morwick Dairy for ice-cream and for swimming, which he couldn’t do during treatment.
“He told many a nurse and doctor all about Morwick Dairy. They were fascinated by the ice-cream being made by real cows and that it was just at the end of our road and we were at Morwick Dairy within 24 hours of our return!
“We also had to go swimming to his favourite ‘Puffin Peter’ swimming pool (Amble Links, because of the picture of a puffin outside) and it was fab to see him splashing about. He’s a real water baby.
“Bertie will have scans every four months to check his tumour isn’t growing back and the doctors estimate he has a 70 per cent chance of it not coming back.”
It’s all encouraging signs, after what has been an emotional and difficult time for Bertie and his family.
It was towards the end of last year when doctors at Newcastle’s RVI told Gemma and Claire that their beloved son had a brain tumour.
Bertie hadn’t been himself for a few months. He was being sick randomly, was constantly tired and suffering sleep apnea because of swollen tonsils.
He underwent a sleep study and had his tonsils removed in September, but he was still unwell.
In early November, Bertie, struggling with sickness and unsteadiness on his feet, saw his GP, who sent him straight to hospital.
It was there that his parents received the devastating news that Bertie – aged two at the time – had cancer, after a scan showed he had a large, fast-growing brain tumour called an ependymoma.
The situation was so severe that Bertie was rushed into surgery the day after his diagnosis, enduring a lengthy operation to remove the tumour from the back of his brain, as well as undergoing two MRI scans.
Thankfully, the operation went well, but Bertie still required further treatment in America in an attempt to stop the cancer returning.
Bertie and his family – including younger brother Sebastian – flew out to the States at the start of December, intending to start proton beam therapy soon after.
But this intensive medical treatment was put on hold after he had several medical complications – starting on the flight over and culminating in him suffering a brain haemorrhage, which left him in intensive care.
And at the end of December, the youngster needed to have an operation to have a permanent shunt fitted.
These unexpected ordeals meant that Bertie had to put Christmas on hold until January. Thankfully though, better late than never, he managed to enjoy delayed seasonal festivities with his family.
It wasn’t until the start of this year that Bertie started his radiotherapy at the Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville.
And six weeks later, in mid-February, the landmark moment finally arrived – Bertie rang the bell to mark the end of his treatment,
Claire said: “He was a superstar throughout! He loved going to the proton centre everyday, the staff adored him and he them. It was really sad to leave. It was a really special place and we received excellent treatment.
“The main difficulty was when he was in intensive care. He was so unwell, but was always so cooperative and good. He made us very proud. Seeing him so unwell was so difficult but it makes us appreciate him so much more.”
Thankfully, Bertie was able to have some respite from treatment during his stint in America, enjoying much-needed days out at some of Florida’s biggest attractions, including Walt Disney World, Legoland and SeaWorld.
While the NHS covered the cost of Bertie’s treatment, as well as flights and basic accommodation, Gemma and Claire needed to cover their expenses, including travelling with Sebastian.
In a touching gesture, friends of the couple set up a JustGiving page to help the family cope during their time in America – and the total exceeded £12,500.
The cash proved vital and the family are grateful to everyone who donated.
Gemma said: “The money was able to cover our living expenses, flights for family to come and stay and trips to Disney, SeaWorld and Legoland – tickets were given to us through Proton but we had to pay for travel and accommodation.
“These trips wouldn’t have been possible without the JustGiving money. It meant that the only worry while we were out there was Bertie.
“We do have some money left which we will use to help us with holidays as Bertie’s shunt means he will have to have special travel insurance. We might have a holiday back in Florida in the future.
“We will make as many happy memories with him as possible. We can’t thank everyone enough for their generous donations, you will never know how much you have helped us.”
This overwhelming support from the public was also demonstrated on social media. The family kept people updated about their son’s progress on the Bertie the Brave Facebook page and hundreds of well-wishes poured in for Bertie.
Claire said: “We can’t thank everyone enough for their support and comments. They really helped us keep going as made us feel connected even though we were so far away.”