SITTING in a hospital consulting room, Vici Rigby was devastated to learn that her three-year-old boy George had cancer.
Just five months earlier, the mum-of-two had received exactly the same earth-shattering news in an almost identical location.
Whereas Vici, 40, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, George, now four, had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells
But now, after three-and-a-half years of treatment for Vici and George at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, they have both been given the all clear.
George’s chemotherapy ended this week and he rang a special bell to signify the end of treatment.
It was a hugely emotional moment for mum and son who battled the illness together.
Vici said: “When George was first taken into hospital to get his diagnosis I was still recovering from surgery myself. But the team at Worcester were amazing, I honestly can’t praise them enough.
“There were a few times when both me and George were in hospital at the same time and they were all just brilliant.”
There was some positive news when Vici completed her cancer treatment in 2018, before the family decided to move from Bromsgrove to Tenby in South West Wales last summer.
But rather than transfer George’s ongoing treatment to a local hospital in Wales, Vici and her husband, Jamie were so happy with the care George was receiving from the Children’s Cancer team at Worcestershire Royal Hospital that they decided a monthly seven-hour round trip was worth it to ensure he was in the best hands for his crucial last few months of treatment.
Vici explained: “When we moved to Tenby last year we decided to keep George’s care with Worcester as the care we’ve received has been absolutely outstanding.”
Since last summer the family have been undertaking the 350-mile round trip every month for George’s chemotherapy treatment.
Despite an extremely testing few years for the family, they’ve been able to give George a relatively normal childhood thanks to George and Vici’s resilience.
Vici said: “He’s done everything his peers have done, we’ve tried to treat him as normally as possible and considering the treatment he has to have on a daily basis, it hasn’t stopped him doing anything. He plays football, goes swimming and is doing really well at school, he’s very active and bright and he hasn’t once complained about his situation.
After three years of care at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, George received his final chemotherapy treatment this week.
Vici described: “It feels quite surreal, when you are given that first diagnosis and know you’re looking at three years of treatment you never think the day is going to come.
"You get into the routine of hospital appointments and planning your lives around that then all of a sudden, we can now make plans, book a holiday and arrange things without the worry."
It feels quite surreal, when you are given that first diagnosis and know you’re looking at three years of treatment you never think the day is going to come.
“We’ve both received the best care in Worcestershire and my Clinical Nurse Specialist, Bernice continues to support me now. We’re so grateful for their care and they really have become like a second family to us all.”
Previously Vici told Fabulous how she was ‘shell-shocked’ on learning she had cancer
“When the doctors sat me down and said to me, ‘You have cancer’, I didn’t actually cry or get emotional. I just went into shock – pure shock,” she said.
“I’d had bowel problems for years. I’d bleed when I went to the loo but I didn’t think much of it. I had a 14-month-old, Jack, and a three-year-old, George, so I thought I was just run down and exhausted.
“Jack had been a big baby – 9lb 4oz – so when I started to bleed I wondered if it was piles – a result of my pregnancies.
“I thought it was anything but cancer.
“Even when I was losing weight, which I now know is a symptom of cancer, I wasn’t concerned – on the contrary I was pleased.”
Her GP suspected polyps, abnormal tissue growths, who referred her to hospital. A biopsy, however, showed rectal cancer which is rare in people under the age of 60.
In the autumn of 2016 she started treatment; six rounds of chemotherapy followed by surgery on her liver and bowel, radiotherapy and then 12 more rounds of chemotherapy.
It was while she was undergoing surgery that Jamie became concerned about George at home, as he was pale and napping a lot.
“ We took him to the GP again who immediately referred him to hospital for blood tests. From there things moved very quickly,” she explained.
“We got a call hours later that he was needed straight away at the Worcester Royal Hospital.
They said they thought it was probably leukaemia but he needed further bone marrow samples to confirm it. Hearing the news was unbelievable.
“It was like Groundhog Day. Five months earlier I had been sat in a virtually identical room hearing the same devastating news – 'It's cancer.'
“All I could think was, ‘Not again, not again'.”
The bone marrow tests were conclusive – George had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells. It progresses rapidly and aggressively and requires urgent treatment so they started him on chemotherapy immediately.
No Time 2 Lose: Why The Sun campaigned for earlier bowel cancer screening
In 2018, The Sun, campaigners and Bowel Cancer UK, managed to persuade the government to lower the bowel cancer screening age from 60 to 50.
While the disease can strike a lot earlier (as in Olivia's case), the move could save more than 4,500 lives a year, experts say.
However, a date for roll out is yet to be confirmed.
Bowel cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease, but it can be cured if it's caught early – or better still prevented.
Caught at stage 1 – the earliest stage – patients have a 97 per cent chance of living for five years or longer.
But catch it at stage 4 – when it's already spread – and that chance plummets to just seven per cent.
In April, Lauren Backler, whose mum died of the disease at the age of 55, joined forces with The Sun to launch the No Time 2 Lose campaign, also supported by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer.
Lauren delivered a petition to the Department of Health complete with almost 450,000 signatures, to put pressure on the Government to make this vital change – one that could save thousands of lives every year, and the NHS millions.
We all deserve an equal chance to beat this disease, regardless of where we live.
We know bowel cancer is more likely after the age of 50 – so it makes sense to screen from then.
Plus, it's got to save the NHS money in the long-run, catching the disease before patients need serious and expensive treatments.
George underwent chemo, while she had surgery and radiotherapy. And this week George finished his treatment with both mum and son in remission.
“I thought it was the worst news ever when I had cancer. But actually the worst was yet to come and hearing my baby had the disease was so much worse,” Vici said.
Bernice Kent, the Clinical Nurse Specialist who cared for Vici, said: “We’re thrilled that both Vici and George have now completed their treatment. They have both been through so much, but it’s lovely to see such a positive ending to such an awful time.”
Children and Young People’s Oncology Nurse Specialist, Dawn Forbes said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to care for George and his family over the last three and a half years.
“George has been very brave throughout his treatment. We are in awe of George’s parents, Vici and Jamie, who have also shown immense resilience throughout his treatment.”
We previously told how a 21-year-old student died of a rare aggressive form of cancer eight weeks after it was mistaken for cystitis.
And a mum-to-be revealed she had to make the heartbreaking choice of whether to terminate her pregnancy or risk dying from cervical cancer.
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