Childhood Cancers: Research — [David Mundell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:38 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham 4:38 pm, 7th December 2020

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, and to follow my Welsh colleague, Tonia Antoniazzi, who moved the motion on behalf of the Petitions Committee.

I want to speak about unbeatable Eva, a 10-year-old constituent of mine. I have been involved and in contact with her since she was diagnosed with DIPG in January. As we have heard, this is an inoperable brain tumour, inside the brain stem, and the prognosis is a life expectancy of less than 12 months. Today, it is 11 months and seven days since Eva was diagnosed with that horrendous tumour. The global pandemic has been particularly cruel to Eva and her family. Not only was there no suitable treatment for Eva in the UK, but she was unable to fly to the United States to receive experimental treatment. The cruel hand of covid stopped Eva travelling to Europe to receive life-prolonging pharmaceutical treatment. Think for one minute about the agony faced by a parent knowing that treatment is available and could prolong their child’s life, but being powerless to do anything about it. How cruel is it that, in any other year, Eva might have received that treatment? Covid took that chance from her.

The benefit of these debates is that they show the strength of feeling on a topic. Petitions allow the public to influence what we, as parliamentarians, discuss. Eva and her family should be proud of how much awareness they have raised nationally for this cause. DIPG has been talked about by many Ministers and the Health Secretary. Eva’s name has been mentioned by the Prime Minister in the Chamber, and her plight was highlighted on “Children in Need” and across the news channels. Wrexham has rallied around this little brave girl, and her parents have privately raised more than £310,000 to fund her treatment. I am here today for Eva, and I hope, Mr Mundell, that you deem it appropriate for me to read out a statement from her father, Paul.

We are here to advocate and fight for our constituents; that is our job. However, what really matters is how our constituents interpret the situation they find themselves in—life through their heartbroken eyes, facing tragedy day by day. Paul has asked me to read this out: “60 years ago, Neil Armstrong lost his daughter to DIPG. On the 1st of January this year, when we received Eva’s diagnosis, her treatment plan was the same as it was all those years ago. The lack of progress is solely down to one thing—funding. In a week where the UK Government approved a covid vaccine, having spent in excess of £6 billion on research and development, it is hard to feel anything other than anger. If some of that money had been spent on the cure for this horrific form of cancer, imagine how many parents would have been spared the conversation we had with doctors in January, and more importantly, imagine how many children would have been able to live full and happy lives, as every child should. All cancer is devastating, but the facts about DIPG and the devastation it causes parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and family make it the very worst of the worst, and more must be done where it can.”

Eva’s treatment journey has at every twist and turn been thwarted due to inaccessibility, cost, lack of understanding and research, different healthcare regimes between England and Wales, and covid-19 restrictions. This brave little girl with a beautiful smile has the arms of Wrexham wrapped around her.

Further research in this field is required. Existing DIPG treatments available around the world are not available here. However, we have the desire in this country to fund research on this childhood cancer, as this petition proves. We have the talent in this country to undertake that task, and we have the best—the unique—national health service, free at the point of delivery. We cannot let children lose their childhoods, cut short due to funding and research issues. Let us hope that this debate starts a reassessment of how we look at children’s cancer going forward.