September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and, thanks to your amazing support, we are funding two very important projects for younger cancer patients at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle.

Lady Elsie and Bailey

These two projects – the Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer Unit and a special support project based on the paediatric oncology wards – are benefitting children coming into Newcastle for specialist cancer treatment from across the North East, Cumbria and further afield.

Patients like Bailey Cuthbert, who is 11-years-old and lives in Bedale, North Yorkshire, with brother, Freddie (9), and parents Elaine and Dean.

The “football obsessed” brothers both support Chelsea FC, play football for Bedale Juniors FC and, before, Covid were attending Leeds United’s Development Centre every week.

But in March 2020, at the start of lockdown, the family’s world turned upside down when a lump on Bailey’s wrist was diagnosed as the bone cancer, osteosarcoma.

Gareth and Bailey

Bailey came to Newcastle for the specialist cancer care he required, meaning he was more than 50 miles away from home. The necessary Covid safety restrictions added to the unreality and upset for the family, with extremely limited visitors admitted during what became a very lengthy hospital stay.

He required a 14-hour operation to remove the tumour and transplant bone and tissue from his leg into his wrist, fusing it in place using metal rods. Bailey also needed chemotherapy and, in total, spent 149 nights in Newcastle’s Great North Children’s Hospital.

His mum stayed with him in hospital for most of that time, with his dad looking after Freddie at home and keeping in touch with Bailey via phone and visiting whenever permitted under Covid restrictions.

It was very hard for all the Cuthberts and, of course, especially for Bailey. In fact, he says the worst thing about being in hospital was being away from his family.

Since 2017, a children’s support project, funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and delivered by Newcastle United Foundation, has been making a huge difference to young cancer patients like Bailey.

The project coordinator, Gareth Williams, is based in the paediatric oncology wards of the Great North Children’s Hospital. He offers patients the chance to take part in recreational activities, indoor sports games and educational opportunities.

Bailey and brother, Freddie

The project offers respite for patients throughout their treatment – encouraging them to play, laugh, learn and stay active alongside their siblings and family members, keeping youngsters engaged and helping them maintain and grow in self-confidence during the long days spent in hospital.

Just before Christmas 2020, Bailey rang the end of treatment bell and headed home to North Yorkshire. His family are full of praise for the treatment and care he received from all the hospital team.

This summer, Bailey was well enough to take part in a non-contact football skills session, organised by Gareth for current and former patients.

At the event, Bailey’s dad, Dean, said Gareth’s support for his son in hospital made all the difference. He remembered the video calls to Bailey in hospital and seeing his face “beaming” because Gareth had visited that day.

Dean says: “Bailey’s diagnosis hit us like a tonne of bricks. It just turned our world upside down. But we have to live with it, stick together and be strong. And Bailey’s been the strongest.

“We’re very grateful to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation because Gareth made a big difference to Bailey. I couldn’t always be there because of Covid restrictions but whenever I had chat with him on the phone I could see his face was beaming because Gareth had been.

Bailey and Gareth

“In fact, I was enjoying Gareth’s visits as much as Bailey. Just knowing he was having fun, being entertained and getting out of bed for basketball or skittles. Daft competitions between the different wards. He changed the day for Bailey and we’re very grateful.”

Gareth says: “My role is to help keep young patients active and engaged, to give them something positive to look forward to. There’s no such thing as a typical day because everything depends on how well the children feel that day. We can tailor and plan activities but we need to react and respond to their needs on a daily basis.

“It’s great to be able to do things that get them out of bed, so indoor sports like curling and, if not, we can do other activities like building Lego football stadiums.

“I’ve really enjoyed Bailey’s company and it was a privilege to support him while he had treatment. His hospital stay was very difficult because of lockdown but he’s always tried to get involved with anything I’ve suggested. He’s a great little lad with a great sense of humour. An absolute delight.”

In addition to funding Gareth’s role, your support enables us to fund four posts within the Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer Unit (£1m). This team, based at the Great North Children’s Hospital and Newcastle University’s Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre, helps find more effective cancer treatments for children and young people and is often describes as the ‘Sir Bobby Robson Centre for children.’

Led by Consultant Paediatric Oncologist, Dr Quentin Campbell-Hewson, it is embedded within the hospital’s clinical service, meaning research is not separate from routine care of patients and nearly all young patients are involved in clinical trial studies.

This ensures they receive the most up-to-date therapy possible and that progress continues to be made in developing better care.