By Chris Jaffray
A nine-year-old girl whose life became a nightmare after an ear infection was actually a rare, inoperable cancer has made a full recovery thanks to pioneering proton beam therapy.
Caroline Brown, then aged seven, was told she had a rhabdomyosarcoma – a soft tissue tumour – which had spread to within millimetres of her brain in March 2017 after suffering what her parents thought was a regular illness for four months.
After allegedly being misdiagnosed by her GP, doctors in Longhoughton, Northumberland, where the youngster lives, discovered the stage four tumour could not be operated on because it was too connected with her facial nerves.
So instead NHS medics sent Caroline to the United States to receive proton beam radiotherapy – a treatment which was not available in the UK at the time and targets tumours with precision, preventing damage to the brain and face.
Now, after 10 weeks of this pioneering treatment before chemotherapy and radiotherapy back in the UK, tests late last year showed the brave youngster is finally in remission.
Mum-of-one Lucy, 45, a writer, said: “Caroline had intermittent earache from November 2016, our GP put it down to an ear infection.
“She also suffered a huge loss of weight, lack of energy, stamina and motivation and no interest in doing much, including playing with friends.
“Chemo is the most horrific thing to watch your child go through, it destroys them.
“Research is vital to make this less aggressive and if possible, more tailored to each child.
“Now Caroline has recovered, occasionally I’ll just look at her and cry.
“A year in remission fills me with amazement she’s made it, and regret that it ever happened.
“It’s an unnameable emotion, like a type of grief.
“You’re still terrified, but I look at Caroline and it’s as if it’s never happened, her recovery has been remarkable.
“It was wonderful to celebrate her birthday recently with a surf party and outdoor campfire, whereas last year she just didn’t want anything.”
After Caroline was diagnosed, the family spent 10 weeks in Oklahoma, USA, in May 2017 for her to undergo proton beam therapy and radiotherapy before having additional chemotherapy at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
The family are now fundraising for the RVI, which sent Caroline to the US for the life-saving treatment.
Lucy said: “We couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered that the RVI has the highest survival rate of paediatric cancer in UK.
“We felt so blessed Caroline was treated by that hospital.
“For me, as well as the incredible doctors and staff, that success must be down to the research that’s going on in the background.”
Alnwick Infirmary has been approached for comment.