The chairman of a North East charity has spoken of his own battle with childhood cancer as he backs a pioneering fund for the disease.
Chris Peacock, who heads the North of England Children’s Cancer Research charity, survived a Wilms’ tumour in his kidney when he was just four years old in the late 1970s.
Now his charity is one of the partners behind the Future Fund which aims to raise £5.5m to establish the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, a state-of-the-art resource where researchers and clinicians can advance their work to develop new treatments with fewer side effects.
“You don’t read many stories of childhood cancer survivors who have had the all-clear for 35 years but I am a living case study,” said Chris, of Tynemouth in North Tyneside.
“It’s comforting for parents of children battling through their illness to talk to me as I am living proof of successful treatment and I enjoy telling them how much I love life and how I make the most of every moment.
“I do think it has shaped who I am today. I feel I was given a second chance to experience the world and I squeeze everything I can out of my life.”
Major advances have been made in children’s cancer since Chris’ diagnosis in 1974, along with improvements in public awareness, attitudes and funding for research. This progress is in part down to the work of a group of parents – including Chris’ mum and dad – who helped establish the NECCR to fundraise for children’s cancer in response to their own experience of the disease.
The NECCR went on to raise £20m for research in Newcastle, helping to establish Newcastle University’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research.
Now the charity has embarked on a new chapter as a partner in the Future Fund along with Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospital’s Great North Children’s Hospital.
Chris, who is managing director at family firm Peacock’s Medical Group, said: “It’s impossible to compare the way we think about children’s cancer now to back when I was diagnosed but it is important not to fool ourselves into thinking there isn’t still a long road ahead.
“In the 1970s children’s cancer wasn’t talked about, it was almost a taboo subject. My mother had to be quite persistent with the doctors at the time because cancer was such a rarity.
“There wasn’t a lot funding directed at children’s cancer research, there weren’t very many professors specialising in it and it was treated as a sideline of adult cancer.
“Thankfully we now know that this isn’t the right approach because childhood cancers need to be treated very differently.
“At the time eight in ten children with cancer didn’t survive and it’s incredible to think that survival rates have now been completely reversed with eight in ten children surviving.”
Chris is relieved today’s children battling cancer are benefiting from 35 years of improvements in facilities, treatments and attitudes.
“I was very young but I do distinctly remember being very frightened,” he said. “It was an adult facility and children weren’t catered for the way they are now.
“When I was receiving treatment I was locked in a room with a machine over the top of me and lots of people were looking in at me through a glass window.
“I have memories of children not coming back from treatments. It was very common to make friends and then find out they had died. There was a lot of sorrow in that place.”
Last week Chris handed over £500,000 to the Future Fund on behalf of the NECCR. He said: “This is an incredible opportunity to create a world-class children’s cancer research facility to tackle the long-term effects of cancer treatments and reduce the burden on childhood survivors.
“It will benefit society as a whole because the work doesn’t just take place in a lab. Researchers and clinicians will be working with live case studies who will be among the first to benefit from their expertise.
“We are once again appealing to the public to dig deep to help us achieve something incredible – this will have local, national and global impact.
“North East people will have access to the best facilities, not only in the UK but in the world, and the progress made in Newcastle will be felt on an international level.”
How to donate
Online via the Just Giving page found at www.futurefund.co.uk , by calling 0191 208 7250, by texting NCFF01 and the amount of your donation to 70070, or in person at The Journal, Thompson House, Groat Market, Newcastle. Get involved on Facebook /futurefundnewcastle, on Twitter @FutureFundNCL and use the hashtag #NCLFF. For more information on the NECCR please visit www.neccr.org.uk