The mother of a boy undergoing cancer treatment is backing a campaign to raise £5.5m for a world-leading specialist centre in the North East.
Monika Matyjasek, whose five-year-old son Oliver Gavin is being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, has spoken of her support for the Future Fund which aims to raise £5.5m to create the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, a specialist children’s cancer research facility at Newcastle University.
The fund is a collaborative project between Newcastle University, North of England Children’s Cancer Research and The Great North Children’s Hospital and has already gained backing from across the region since launching last week.
Monika, from Middlesbrough, said: “I wholeheartedly support the Future Fund’s aim to build on the expertise in children’s cancer. We are so grateful for what is already understood about Oliver’s leukaemia and anything to improve on this and develop better treatments has my backing.”
Oliver was diagnosed with the disease in February last year when he was just four after Monika noticed her son had gone from a happy, healthy child to a weak little boy who seemed to catch every bug in the playground.
“I was never away from the GP and began to feel like a neurotic mother of a newborn,” she said.
“My instinct was right though because at some point he became really poorly and at that point he was sent to James Cook Memorial Hospital in Middlesbrough, near to where we live, and I found out he was suffering from pneumonia. The same day his blood was taken and the results suggested he might have leukaemia but I was told it might be anaemia because of the infection that was raging round his body – at that point it wasn’t clear.”
Oliver was taken to the Great North Children’s Hospital and doctors confirmed he did have leukaemia based on his bloods.
He underwent six months of intensive chemotherapy and is now in the middle of a two-year course of ‘maintenance’ chemotherapy. But despite their daily challenges, the family is enjoying getting life back on track.
“I have just finished my university training to become an occupational therapist,” said Monika.
“I was in my last year at university when we got the diagnosis so I put my studies on hold for a year but I’ve managed to complete them now.
“Oliver was selected for a trial that means his treatment is a little bit different from the usual course of action and he is feeling a lot better. He doesn’t need steroids during the final two years of his maintenance therapy, which is such a blessing, and we are all doing well.”
Monika praised staff at the hospital for helping her understand the disease and offering support, in particular childhood cancer specialist Professor Josef Vormoor, director of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University (NICR) and honorary consultant paediatric oncologist at the Great North Children’s Hospital.
“He took the time to answer every single question I had – and I’m a person who has lots of questions. I found it all much easier to cope with once I understood the disease and how we were going to tackle it,” she said.
Prof Vormoor said this partnership between clinicians and the families of their patients is crucial to the success of all treatments.
“Good communication is everything,” he said. “The parents of our patients become partners in delivering treatment as they give most of the oral medicines at home.
“We rely on them to monitor their children and bring them back to hospital if they get unwell due to side effects of our therapy. Oliver’s mum is a good example of how families are empowered by understanding how we are going to treat leukaemia, how this may affect their children and what side effects to expect.”