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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:52 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann 4:52 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank Tonia Antoniazzi for securing this important debate and all those who signed the e-petition. Cameron Truesdale’s name will not resonate with people in this room, but I am speaking of a little boy who is now safe in the arms of Jesus. He was a little 11-year-old boy from my constituency, who had so much to live for but who did not get the opportunity.

His mum described him as sweet, shy and popular. He never had a bad word to say about others. He was good at maths. In his own words, he wanted to be an “entrepreneur”. He was a super cool big brother and he adored his sisters Chloe, Courtney and Catlin. Sadly, Cameron’s life ended on 3 September 2018, but his memory is still alive.

When Cameron was diagnosed with DIPG cancer in January 2017, his family were told that he would have nine months to live, if he was to receive radiotherapy and steroids. “Go home and make memories”—the most chilling and heart-wrenching words that any family will ever hear. Cameron’s family were devastated that in the 21st century they would be told that there was no hope and, no matter what they did for Cameron, he would die anyhow. Cameron’s family believe that where there is life, there is hope. Cameron’s family immediately looked at therapies around the world. They raised thousands of pounds and travelled to Mexico, where Cameron received treatment. While it did not save his life, it gave them hope and extra time to make those memories.

Cameron and his family fought DIPG with courage and determination. Cameron did not want to die. Even towards the end, when he was very poorly and DIPG had stolen every function apart from his ability to know what was going on, his mum asked him whether he wanted to stop fighting and just rest, or for her to stop fighting. With tears running down his face, even in agony, he did not want to stop, because he loved life.

We have already heard today that the survival rate for DIPG is 0%. That is just not good enough and not what we should settle for. Cameron should not be a statistic and we do not want any other families to go through the pain and anguish of losing a child. In Northern Ireland alone, three young people are diagnosed with cancer every week. That means three young people facing huge physical and emotional challenges, doubts, fears and anxieties. We must ensure that science is being supported to increase survival rates and to break this dark, sleekid thief.

Globally, we have poured billions into finding a vaccine for covid-19, because the will has been there to do so. We need a similar will and focus on cancer. I recognise that the Government have invested millions of pounds into cancer research, but amid the myriad cancer types that exist, we must ensure that childhood cancer receives the specific attention that it demands. I fully support the call for ring-fenced funds for new research. We need a specific fund that targets childhood cancer, and particularly those cancers that have the lowest survival rates. We need transparency on specific cancer types and age data, and we also need exceptionalism and expediency. Every life lost is one too many.

The message of the last week, with the news of the covid vaccine, brought hope. It also highlighted that when science is supported, it can make the breakthroughs we need. The Government should do the same for cancer, because none of us knows whose family could be next.