A brave Northumberland girl is marking a year in remission from a rare form of cancer after receiving specialist treatment in the United States.
Nine-year-old Caroline Brown, from Longhoughton, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in 2017.
The tumour, due to its position in her head, is inoperable so Caroline needed intensive chemotherapy and a trip to America for proton beam radiotherapy to shrink it.
This treatment, which is as yet unavailable to children in the UK, is able to target tumours very accurately and prevent damage to the surrounding site, such as the face and brain in this case.
Carolines mum Lucy said: “Caroline started getting earache in November 2016, then a lump by her ear.
“After being dismissed as an ear infection initially, she became quite poorly and seemed a lot more tired than usual.
“Eventually after an MRI scan in March 2017, things moved very quickly as we discovered she had a stage 4 tumour in her head which, due to the connection to nerves, wasn’t possible to remove.
“Chemotherapy and radiotherapy were our only option, so just days later after a barrage of tests and scans she began her first round of treatment.”
“She had nine rounds of chemo, which affected her quite badly, she was very poorly and in isolation a lot.
“Luckily I was able to spend pretty much all my time with her, but Michael my husband still worked throughout.
“I would stay with her through the chemo treatment and he would return home at night, finding this incredibly hard. Michael’s work was very supportive though, giving him as much time off as needed.”
A trip to America was necessary for Caroline, funded by the NHS, to receive proton beam radiotherapy which targets tumours very accurately to prevent damage to the surrounding site.
She is now in remission since her last round of tests in October 2018.
Lucy said: “Occasionally, I’ll just look at her and cry. A year in remission fills me with amazement she’s made it, and regret that it ever happened.
“It’s an unnameable emotion, like a type of grief. You’re still terrified, but I look at Caroline and it’s as if it’s never happened, her recovery has been remarkable.”
Lucy writes a blog on encouraging children to get outside more to enjoy nature called Kids of the Wild. Caroline has written her cancer treatment story as a therapeutic journey on the blog in the eyes of her cuddly toy, Otto the bear.
Otto tells his story from Caroline’s side during every procedure, from lying on her tummy in an MRI scanner, to being with her in radiotherapy.
She has also been sharing her experience by talking at assembly at her school, Embleton Vincent Edwards Church of England Primary, and local groups like her cub pack.
Caroline and other children whose lives have been affected by cancer were guests of honour at the launch of the 2019 Children’s Cancer Run.
The 2019 Children’s Cancer Run, one of Europe’s biggest single charity fun runs, will take place on Sunday, May 19, at Gosforth Park, Newcastle Racecourse, and is expected to attract more than 9,000 runners raising funds for research into more effective treatments for childhood cancer.
North of England Children’s Cancer Research (NECCR) held the launch party for the run at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI), attended by families whose lives have been directly affected by childhood cancer.
The event was also a mini birthday party for the charity, celebrating its 40th anniversary year, and marked World Cancer Day.
Caroline and her family, along with many other runners from her school, are looking forward to taking part in this year’s run.
Lucy said: “We couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered the RVI has the highest survival rate of paediatric cancer in UK. We felt so blessed to be at that hospital.
The generosity of runners and their supporters funds life-saving research into more effective and less aggressive treatments for childhood cancer. All the research is carried out by a team of world class researchers based in the NECCR laboratories at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre in Newcastle.
Forty years ago when the NECCR was first established, survival rates for childhood cancer were very low, at only 25%. Over the past four decades, more than £30million has been raised by the public which has helped to establish the North East as world-leaders in childhood cancer research.
Now, thanks to research carried out and continuous improvement in therapy, that figure is reversed, with 80% of children diagnosed with cancer surviving the disease.
Chris Peacock, chairman of the NECCR, said: “We are very proud of the part we have played over the last 40 years in developing new treatments for childhood cancer and helping to improve survival rates. We still have a long way to go to help improve those treatments, making them more effective and less aggressive to reduce some of the many traumatic side effects. The run is a fantastic way for people to get involved, make a difference and help more children live healthy lives in the future.”
Roger Whiteside, chief executive of Greggs, the main corporate supporter of the run, said: “We’re thrilled to once again be able to support the Children’s Cancer Run, which each year manages to rally so many North East communities to come together for a good cause and a tremendous day out.”
The Children’s Cancer Run is offering early bird entry rates up until Sunday, March 31. Participants can enter as a single runner, a team, as a family or with their school.
Last year, the event raised £288,000 for the NECCR, adding to the £7million which has already been raised by Children’s Cancer runners over the past 37 years.
To enter, join or create a team, or for more details about the event, visit www.childrenscancerrun.co.uk