In January this year, when the UK was embarking on its third lockdown of the pandemic, 19-year-old Lucy Verity received the devastating news that would change her life.
The lower back pain she had started experiencing the previous April turned out to be a rare bone tumour - Ewing Sarcoma on her right iliac wing (pelvis) - and needed immediate treatment.
The plan was for Lucy to undergo 14 chemotherapy sessions as a inpatient at St James Hospital in Leeds every two weeks, alternating between a 48 hour chemo and a five-day chemo, a six week proton therapy in Manchester, surgery in Birmingham and radiotherapy at Leeds.
This week she began her final five-day chemotherapy.
Speaking from the family’s home in Masham, her mum, Gaynor, says: “Bone cancer is a brutal cancer and needs a very aggressive treatment regime but covid has made the situation for any one suffering from cancer so much worse.
“Lucy has spent numerous periods of time in hospital as an inpatient as after nearly every chemo she got neutropenic sepsis meaning she needed to be admitted to hospital and treated with IV antibiotics for up to seven days at a time.”
Covid also meant that the teenage and young adult cancer ward at St James Hospital in Leeds, where she is being treated, was being used to deal with the complexity of cancer and covid, and wasn’t open to teenagers and young adults.
“For the first few months this meant Lucy spent time as an inpatient in lots of different wards with no visitors and without the opportunity to form bonds with the nursing and support staff - it was a very difficult time,” Gaynor says.
For the last few months teenagers and young adults have been prioritised for a bed back on the teenage cancer ward, with it’s day room with games, snacks, and the chance to meet the occasional other teenager/young adult experiencing the same thing.
“It’s been nice to mix and socialise again,” says Lucy. “It’s good to meet the same people a few times and get to know others who are going through a similar thing.”
Lucy is also supported by a specialist nurse and a youth worker from the Teenage Cancer Trust. “This has been invaluable,” says Gaynor.
“The nurse has been our ‘go to’ person for any questions and for co-ordinating the complexity of Lucy’s treatment and for supporting Lucy.
“The youth worker is there to try to make their day a bit more normal, chatting, playing a game and doing some craft activities.”
It’s this support that led to Lucy’s 21-year-old brother, Oliver, deciding to raise money for the charity by running a mile an hour for 24 hours.
Lucy’s family, which includes mum Gaynor, dad Chris, sister Charlie, 25, and Oliver, set up a Just Giving page and decided to split the funds raised between the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Bone Cancer Research Trust.
In the meantime, Gaynor’s friend Helen held a supper event in support of the charities and from there it escalated.
Friends, family, local businesses and community groups have all donated and held their own events in Lucy’s name to raise money for her chosen causes.
The family have almost reached their £30,000 target but they don’t intend to stop there.
“Our initial target in April was £5,000 but we’ve just kept increasing it,” Lucy says. “We’ve raised more than we ever expected.”
She adds: “It’s had a really positive impact. I’m not thinking that it’s because of us that people are doing this fundraising but it’s a good feeling to raise that much money for the causes that need it.”
Before her diagnosis, Lucy worked at Big Sheep, Little Cow farm in Bedale. “She loved animals and was lucky to have her own chickens and guinea pigs as well as her beloved greyhound Maggie, which we’d rescued at 18 months old,” Gaynor says.
At Easter, Lucy’s siblings surprised her with the purchase of two pygmy goats at Easter, which she named Leonardo Di Caprigoat and Vincent Van Goat.
Since then, she has expanded her animal empire with the addition of four Indian Runner Ducks, James Pond and the Pond Girls, Barbara, Deborah and Susan.
“I’ve had to read up on how to look after them, particularly the goats because I’ve never had anything like that before,” says Lucy.
She is also a keen rugby and cricket player, going to cheer on her team mates when she is well enough. “Her team mates and the clubs have been an amazing support for which we are so grateful,” says Gaynor.
Friends have also helped out when needed, cleaning the house, dropping by with food and gifts, mowing lawn and other jobs.
Lucy’s dry sense of humour has also helped the family stay positive over the last few months.
At the start of her treatment she pointed out that the family would save a fortune on shampoo. She also joked that the family would be able to holiday in Manchester and Birmingham and that when she was in a inpatient she would get her meals delivered to her without having to do the washing up.
“After taking in all this devastating news we had to drag ourselves up as a family and try to put a positive spin on it,” says Gaynor. “We try to not let the anxieties of tomorrow take away the peace of today - that’s my current mantra.”
To donate to Lucy’s Just Giving page, visit justgiving.com/team/lucyoliviaverity
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