Sitting with his loving family, young Tyler Hopper looks just like a normal 11-year-old boy.
But in actual fact, this brave youngster is fighting a hidden illness, enduring a daily battle with a rare form of cancer.
The Alnwick lad was diagnosed with biphenotypic acute leukaemia (BAL) in March 2016 and is undergoing a gruelling three-year programme of treatment.
BAL is a mixture of both types of acute leukaemias – acute myeloid leukaemia and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
It is an uncommon type and it is estimated that just five per cent of people with acute leukaemia have BAL.
For Tyler and his family, life is far from easy.
Tyler endures regular hospital visits, where he has chemotherapy and blood tests, and he also has frequent lumbar punctures, bone-marrow tests, steroids and antibiotics.
He also has to have daily medication and chemotherapy and has a portacath fitted.
Yet, this little warrior – as he is described by his parents Terri and Kevin – never complains and takes things in his stride.
But there have been some dark and difficult days for Tyler and his loved ones, including older brother Casey, 15.
Terri, 35, said: “To watch your child go through all this is heartbreaking and when they ask if they are going to die and say it would be easier for everyone if he wasn’t here is utterly devastating and words can’t describe it. We always just wish we could swap places with him.
“It has been really tough on Tyler, harsh and brutal, yet he has never complained. He is so brave and he has just got on with it. He is always more concerned about everyone else.”
Tyler was quite unwell in the period before his diagnosis, suffering stomach pains and a lack of appetite, and he often felt tired.
Terri says that his illness wasn’t detected by doctors at first, but a blood test confirmed the worst news possible.
She said: “I had a mother’s instinct that something was wrong, but I didn’t expect it to be leukaemia. He was 10 when he was diagnosed and when we were told what it was, my heart shattered. We were broken and in shock because you never think it is going to happen to you. We didn’t know what to expect or what would happen.”
Terri says the first six months after his diagnosis and the early stages of his treatment were particularly tough and gruelling for Tyler.
His weight plummeted, he was often bed-bound and he lost his hair, which Terri says ‘made it all the more real’.
Now, a year into his treatment, and Tyler is starting to improve; he can get out and about a little bit more, he goes to school three hours a day – having missed a large chunk previously – he has put on weight and his hair has grown back. But, appearances can often be deceptive.
Terri, who has given up work to be his full-time carer, said: “We have adjusted to a new sort of normal, but he still has two more years of treatment left and it is still a struggle. We live day-to-day and don’t think too far into the future.
“To the outside world, he looks like he is okay. His hair has grown back and he looks just like any other child and people think he is fine, but it is a hidden illness – he is still going through so much, he is still having chemotherapy and medication and he is still going through it all. He still has bad days, but he has good days too. Hopefully Tyler will get through it, but there’s always a chance of relapse.
“He goes to the Duchess’s Community High School three hours a day. He gets tired, because of all the medication he takes. It affects him physically and mentally.”
Last month, the Gazette reported how Nikki Wood, who lost her 17-year-old son Kieran, from Longhoughton, to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, had raised money to fund research into finding improved and less harsh treatments for children.
Terri fully endorses this. She said: “Leukaemia is harsh, but the treatments and side effects are just as harsh. It has so many side effects, it is brutal.”
For all Tyler is going through, Terri praised the courage of her other son, Casey. She said: “Casey is going through it too. Both of our boys are so brave – they are warriors and make us so proud.”
The family is keen to raise money and awareness of children’s cancer and leukaemia. Terri plays in the Alnwick Women’s Darts League and at a recent fund-raising event, £575 was collected in aid of the Children’s Cancer Fund. She thanked everyone who helped and supported the event.
She said: “I want people to know what to look out for. We didn’t realise at the time, but leading up to Tyler’s diagnosis he had other symptoms of leukaemia which were lots of little bruises all over his body, he was paler than most kids and he started having nose bleeds. We only found out after his diagnosis that these are symptoms of leukaemia, as well as the symptoms we saw.
“We want to raise more money for cancer and hope to do some fund-raising events.”