Today is International Childhood Cancer Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the special challenges faced by young cancer patients.

Joseph Jarvie

Within the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle, our Foundation is helping find more effective ways to treat cancer in young patients by funding clinical trials. We also fund a support project to improve children’s physical and mental health during and after treatment.

All this ensures patients, like 12-year-old Joseph Jarvie from Rowlands Gill, receive the most up-to-date therapy possible and that progress continues to be made in developing better care.

Joseph was diagnosed with a germ cell tumour in his brain, a very rare type of cancer, last year. The dreadful news came out of the blue and he then required intensive treatment, which impacted both his physical and emotional wellbeing.

In addition to the expert medical care he is receiving, the children’s support project, funded by our Foundation and delivered by Newcastle United Foundation, is making a huge difference to young cancer patients like Joseph.

The project coordinator, Gareth Williams, is based in the paediatric oncology wards of the Great North Children’s Hospital and has supported Joseph since his very first week of treatment.

Joseph’s mum, Jo Jarvie, explains: “Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in January last year. It was totally unexpected. He had a terrible headache, sore neck and double vision and we were advised to got to A&E. Honestly, we just expected them to say it was a migraine.

“His treatment started almost immediately and he was receiving three types of chemo drugs every day for five days and then would have a short break. Inevitably, he’d end up back in hospital during the break though because he was so susceptible to infections. Off and on, including six weeks receiving proton therapy at the Christie in Manchester, Joseph was in hospital for six months.

Joseph and Gareth Williams

“My husband, Steve, met Gareth on Joseph’s first stay at the Great North Children’s Hospital. He’d not been able to get out of bed and was very poorly. Gareth suggested they build a Lego football stadium together and that encouraged Joseph to sit in his chair and get out of bed for the first time. He’s made a huge difference for us.”

Gareth offers patients the chance to take part in recreational activities, indoor sports games and educational opportunities – 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.

He is accompanied in his role by Project Officer, Melissa Scott, who is also funded by Newcastle Hospitals Charity and offers the same support to children with chronic conditions at the Great North Children’s Hospital.

When Joseph’s treatment finished, Gareth found a new way to support his recovery and invited Joseph and his 15-year-old brother Daniel to try golf, which has proved a hugely positive experience for them both.

Jo adds: “Gareth’s support in hospital was invaluable but his help since with the golf has really given Joseph a lift. He’d missed a lot of school and his self-confidence understandably took a knock. During treatment, everything’s mapped out for you and when that ends it’s quite difficult to try to return to normal life.

“The golf has helped Joseph grow in confidence and that’s played a big part in him getting back to school. It’s also helping him physically and it’s something he can do with his brother.

“This has all been very hard for Dan, too. He’s been separated from Joseph because of COVID restrictions and that’s been tough on them both, so to have something like golf that they can now do together is just wonderful. It’s a regular weekly thing to get them active and out of the house.

“We have a way to go but the first two scans since his treatment ended showed no sign of a tumour. Joseph’s receiving regular blood checks and scans and still gets very tired but he’s back at school and this week we were able to go to the football with Gareth.

“We’re all so grateful to everyone who has supported the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. The difference Gareth has made to Joseph and our family is hard to put into words.”