Jack's family find a haven in home

For more than two years little Jack Smith and his family have been coming to terms with a rare form of cancer which is attacking the nine-year-old's body.

Jack Smith enjoys playing table football at Crawford House

For more than two years little Jack Smith and his family have been coming to terms with a rare form of cancer which is attacking the nine-year-old's body.

But the stress of coping with the disease has been eased with help from a Tyneside charity which offers a friendly and comfortable home from home just a stone's throw from the hospital ward.

Engrossed in his latest Nintendo game, Jack is all smiles.

There is little to suggest the brave schoolboy has been battling a rare and virulent form of cancer since October 2004, and has undergone countless sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to blast the disease from his body.

It is a massive burden for the youngster and his devoted parents Paula and Andrew to carry, but one that has been lightened by knowledge they will always have a warm and welcoming place to stay when they travel from their home in Berwick for treatment at Newcastle's General Hospital.

Jack's treatment can mean weeks at a time in hospital or the need to have daily chemotherapy sessions, but his parents and three-year-old sister Abbie will reassuringly be staying nearby at Crawford House, the home from home for families with children undergoing treatment at Tyneside's hospitals.

In fact the Smith family have clocked up 156 days at Crawford House, which is run by The Sick Children's Trust, since Jack, a pupil at St Mary's First School in Berwick, had the disease diagnosed in 2004.

Paula, who recently took Harry Potter fan Jack to Alnwick Castle, where scenes from the movie were filmed, said: "He's been on chemotherapy for months and months at a time, but he's a little trooper and copes with it amazingly.

"At the moment Jack has fluid around his heart which needs to be given the chance to drain away, so we've had to tell him to take it easy.

"It's been difficult telling such an active little boy that he can't go on his bike or trampoline. He also has a tumour on his spine, just behind his stomach, so he is now having chemotherapy once every three weeks for five days."

Jack's battle began during 2004 when Paula and Andrew became increasingly worried about his health.

The youngster had not been well for almost a month and was struggling to eat or do any physical activity.

"It wasn't like Jack at all," recalled Paula, 35.

"When we took him to hospital doctors kept giving him different diagnoses such as that he'd a pulled muscle or that it was emotional. But he started eating less and then was also being sick.

"He was losing so much weight that we took him to casualty a few times, but they kept sending him home.

"I was at my wits' end and I felt like no-one was listening to me. I knew there was something wrong with him so I literally begged the doctor in Berwick to send him to see a specialist, and that was when they referred him to the Royal Victoria Infirmary."

With no lump or other symptoms, medics relied on blood tests to reveal Jack's true condition - the rare and complex form of cancer known as rhabdomyosarcoma.

Little is known about the cancer, such as what causes it, and fewer than 60 children are diagnosed with it each year - most of them under 10 years old.

This particular kind of cancer attacks the supporting structures of the body, such as bones, muscles and cartilage.

In Jack's case the cancer is affecting the soft tissue supporting the body, such as fat, muscle and blood vessels.

The diagnosis was a massive blow to the family, and despite being told Jack was cancer-free in November, the illness returned in March.

"We don't ask too many questions because we're frightened about the answers," said Andrew, 37.

"We do know the cancer has now spread to the liver and Jack is now undergoing more chemotherapy.

"Being able to stay at Crawford House has made life so much easier and it's certainly taken some of the stress away.

"I couldn't have afforded to drive down to Newcastle every day when Jack has his treatment and the journey, which takes over an hour each way, would have difficult.

"We would've been lost without Crawford House."

The house, situated in the grounds of the RVI, has 16 bedrooms for families to share, as well as a spacious living room, a playroom packed with toys and a shared kitchen for home cooking.

Assistant house manager Diane Wailes said: "As well as supporting the families we also get to know them and we've formed a great bond with Jack and his family.

"We can also be a shoulder for them to cry on if things get tough. But Jack's always happy and he's so confident with everyone here."

---------------------------------------------------------

Donate a phone

The Sick Children's Trust provides `Home from Home' accommodation for the families of seriously ill children receiving treatment in hospital.

Families can stay completely free of charge for as long as they need to, be it a week, a month, or a year.

It costs The SCT approximately £25 to house a family for a night and we support around 3,900 families a year.

Phones for Homes is The SCT's Mobile Phone Recycling Campaign launched to raise money towards the cost of running and maintaining their seven homes throughout the UK.

A staggering 100m handsets a year are stuffed in people's drawers and forgotten about, while another 15m are simply thrown away.

But donating an old mobile phone handset to The SCT's Phones for Homes campaign, could ensure old mobile phones are recycled in an environmentally friendly way. Participants could also raise up to £70 per handset for The SCT.

People can arrange collections at work or school and for more information about posters and collections boxes log on to www.sickchildrenstrust.org

For further information, contact Roz at The Sick Children's Trust, who can arrange freepost bags to be sent out or a free collection of 10 or more mobiles. E-mail roz@sickchildrenstrust.org  or call Roz on 020 7791 2266.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer