Charity run kids face new anguish

Stuart Howard with his children Eden and Will.
Stuart Howard with his children Eden and Will.

Two children who ran the Mini Great North Run in memory of their older brother were dealt a new blow, after their mum died the following day.

Will and Eden Howard took up the one-mile challenge to raise money for the fund set up in their brother Niall’s name, which helps children suffering from cancer.

The seven-year-old lost his struggle in 2002 against a brain tumour brought on by an extremely rare genetic condition.

But mum Denise also carried the faulty gene, which dramatically increases the chances of contracting cancer.

In December 2010, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, even though she had never smoked.

An MRI scan then revealed it had spread to her brain. Despite intensive treatment including chemotherapy and several drug trials, Denise began to suffer seizures.

On Tuesday, September 11, four days before Will and Eden – who are just seven and four-years-old – were due to run, she was taken into St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle.

Speaking from the family home in Hadston, husband of 24 years Stuart said: “There is no way she would have wanted them to miss it.”

On September 16, the day after the run, Denise died aged 41.

They have already endured the death of a child from cancer, but the Howard family now have to face life without their beloved mum.

Denise Howard died on September 16, aged 41, following a two-year battle against cancer sparked by a rare genetic condition. Tragically, it was also inherited by her seven-year-old son Niall, who passed away in 2002 having been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour.

Called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, there have been only 400 reported cases since it was identified by American physicians in 1969.

Following Niall’s death, Denise and husband Stuart, of Hadston, went on to have two more children – Will, who is now seven, and four-year-old Eden.

Both have been tested and are clear of the condition.

““When Niall was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2001, our world fell apart,” said Stuart, 45, who works for Homes for Northumberland as a joiner.

“Denise had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and at the same time found out she had the genetic condition. Because of the chemotherapy, she had been told it was unlikely that she would be able to have any more children. So we decided to live life to the full.”

The couple embarked on an ambitious project to build their own home, but then Denise discovered that she was pregnant.

“Sadly, she had a miscarriage, but it was a sign that we could have children again,” said Stuart. “We had just got started building the house when Denise then found out she was pregnant with Will. He was our miracle baby.

“By the time the house was built, Eden came along. We thought we had the perfect life.”

When Will was three, he took part in his first Mini Great North Run, with his dad by his side, to raise funds for the fund Stuart and Denise had set up in Niall’s name. Since it was established, the charity has raised thousands of pounds towards helping children with cancer.

But, in 2010, their world was turned upside-down once again. Denise had lung cancer.

“She insisted on an MRI scan and the doctors found that it had spread to her head,” said Stuart. “She knew it was terminal, but she never wanted to say it was.”

Denise began an intensive programme of treatment, including chemotherapy, while being administered a series of trial drugs to try to beat the cancer. But in December last year she spent four weeks in Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

Stuart said: “She began to lose her appetite and had a number of seizures, which affected her speech.”

Denise was taken to St Oswald’s Hospice on Tuesday, September 11, after suffering another seizure. It was just four days before Will and Eden were due to take part in their annual fund-raising run.

“When it came to the Saturday, Denise was really poorly,” said Stuart. “I didn’t want to leave her, so her sister Michelle did the run with Will and Eden There is no way she would have wanted them to miss it – she was always there to cheer us on.”

Denise died the following day. A service was held at St Cuthbert’s Church in Amble on September 25, followed by a cremation at Blyth. Her ashes are buried with Niall.

Together, Will and Eden raised several hundred pounds for the Niall Howard Fund, but also for St Oswald’s.

Stuart said: “We have to give a big thanks to St Oswald’s for the care they gave Denise in her last days. We all miss Denise so much and she would have been very proud of Will and Eden.”

Donations to the fund can be made at Lloyds TSB in Amble.