Last October Claire Denton and Sam Singleton were celebrating the news they were expecting their third child.
But their joy was short-lived as just a month later they learned their son, George, was suffering from stage 4 cancer and it had spread.
George lives with his mother, Claire, 29, father Sam, 32, big brother Deacan, five, and baby sister Polly-Anna, who is just four months old.
“Last September, George kept complaining he had belly ache,” recalls Claire. “Our GP first thought it was constipation, but the pain didn’t go away and he kept crying. I took him back to the doctor who then could feel a large lump in his stomach. We were sent straight to Barnsley Hospital where George had an X-ray. He was then sent to Sheffield Children’s Hospital for more tests. Sam and I were told he had a large mass and that it was probably cancer.”
Tests confirmed that George had stage 4 neuroblastoma and he would need to start treatment straight away.
“It was such a shock. He was only two years old,” says Claire.
Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of five. It is a cancer of nerve cells left behind from a baby’s development in the womb. Around 100 children are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK.
“We’d just got the brilliant news we were expecting another baby, then just a few weeks later, we got the devastating news that our little boy had cancer, which had already spread, and he faced 18 months of treatment and lengthy hospital stays.”
To make matters worse George’s tumour was wrapped around a main artery, so surgery to remove it wasn’t possible, so he started on intense chemotherapy, every seven to 10 days, which sometimes meant a stay in hospital.
He then had high dose chemotherapy and stem cell replacement, which needed a seven-week stay in hospital in isolation. This was followed by six weeks of radiotherapy, every day Monday to Friday, for which he had to be sedated.
Last month George started a course of immunotherapy treatment to help his immune system recognise any neuroblastoma cells left and kill them. This means he must spend 10 days in hospital, each month for six months, which should then be the end of his treatments. But until then he gets easily tired, still needs a feeding tube down his nose and is waiting for his hair to grow back.
Although George’s original tumour is still there, and he has lost the use of one of his kidneys, it is stable and the cancer is now no longer visible anywhere else in his body.
“The last 11 months have been very hard on our family and we’ve had to pull together to stay strong,” says Claire.
“We’ve had to juggle and adapt to cope with everything, even moving back to Penistone from Barnsley to be closer to our families who have been brilliant in their support. Deacan has been very upset to see his little brother being poorly.
“Sam had to give up work to help George with all his hospital visits and make sure that Deacan gets time he needs, as I was pregnant with – and now have – baby Polly-Anna to look after.
“Although we have seen our happy go lucky little boy become frustrated and withdrawn, we always make sure George has plenty of chance to keep smiling. We throw him a little party every time he finishes a treatment or comes home after a stay in hospital and all his friends and family come along too. And thanks to the generosity of family, friends and colleagues at Morrisons in Barnsley where I work, they’re helping to raise money for us to go to Disneyland Paris.”
A crowd-funding campaign has already raised £5,000 towards the trip.
“Now we are counting down the days until early next year when George finishes all his treatments and can hopefully get back to being just like any other little boy and enjoy his trip to Disneyland.
“And we know that it will be thanks to research which developed these treatments that will help him do just that. That’s why we know raising money for Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People is so important.”
George is one of 150 children in Yorkshire diagnosed with cancer every year.
And despite still undergoing treatment he and his family are supporting a Cancer Research UK Campaign. This month is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the charity has joined forces with TK Maxx to launch its Give Up Clothes For Good campaign.
The public can help children like George survive cancer by donating any pre-loved quality clothing, accessories and homeware they no longer need to their nearest TK Maxx store.
When sold in Cancer Research UK shops, each bag of items donated could raise up to £30 to help fund dedicated research into children’s and young people’s cancers.
Nicki Embleton, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Yorkshire, said: “More children and young people than ever are surviving cancer. But there’s still so much more to do.
“Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults – from the types of cancer to the impact of treatment and the long-term side effects survivors often experience.
“So it needs different, dedicated research which campaigns like Give Up Clothes For Good help to fund. We want to help more children and young people, like George, in Yorkshire and across the UK, survive cancer with a good quality of life.
“That’s why we hope as many people as possible will follow George’s lead and show their support. Unwanted items really could save lives.”
For more information visit cruk.org/childrenandyoungpeople or tkmaxx.co.uk
To support George’s trip to Disneyland Paris, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/caitlin-denton