For every family affected, the journey through cancer treatment after diagnosis is a long and difficult one, and your child ringing the bell at the end of that treatment is a huge milestone. However, contrary to popular understanding, it is far from the end.
Described somewhat ironically as ‘a gift that keeps on giving’, cancer brings with it an in-built fear of its return, and with some types of cancer that return carries a particularly high mortality rate.
Neuroblastoma is one of these types of cancer. It is the second most common form of solid tumour found in children, affecting approximately 100 children a year in the UK. However, neuroblastoma also has one of the lowest survival rates – statistically, only two-thirds of patients will survive to five years after their initial diagnosis. Survival rates for children diagnosed before their first birthday can be as high as 83%, but for those between 1-4years of age, this drops dramatically to just 43%.
Relapse rates for high-risk neuroblastoma are estimated at 50-60% and are most likely to occur within two years of the end of treatment.
These reasons, amongst others, are why so many families are seeking new ways to reduce the chances of relapse in their child.
Lennox Children’s Cancer Fund has, for 27 years, been proud to support a number of children receiving treatment for a variety of types of cancer, and in the last few months, we have been involved with supporting Harry and Lulu who have both been receiving treatment for neuroblastoma.
Both families have been desperately searching for an answer to prevent the return of their child’s cancer and were offered the opportunity to apply for a medical trial at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Doctors at the centre are trialling a vaccine known as ‘Bivalent’ which is designed to teach the body’s immune system to spot and attack cancerous cells. The hope is that this will, in turn, stop the growth of cancers and destroy any cancerous cells which may still remain in the body after treatment, thus preventing a relapse.
Sadly this trial is not available to everyone – your child has to fit a strict set of criteria, but even more challenging is raising the £200,000 required to pay for the treatment itself, and the travel to and from the United States. This is a huge challenge for these families, matched only by the desperation to do the best possible thing for their child.
We are delighted to hear that Harry is currently mid-way through his course of the Bivalent treatment, and Lulu has flown out to America in the past few weeks to begin her treatment too.
Whilst as a small charity we cannot fund their treatment wholly, we have been able to make a difference to Harry, Lulu and their families with direct financial support as well as encouraging our supporters to donate to their fundraising appeals to help them achieve their goal of reaching this potentially life-changing treatment.
We hope that going forward, this vaccine is a huge success and becomes more widely available to children who really need it to secure a cancer-free future.