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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:20 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 5:20 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank Tonia Antoniazzi for bringing such an important debate to the fore. Many people will know what the bond is like between parent and child, so just imagine what it must be like for families to then lose their child. That is a thought that, as a parent, I personally cannot bear, yet it happened in my community this summer. My community of North Norfolk is very close and loving, and things are very much the same in the Pitcher family. On 12 July, little Benny Pitcher lost his battle, after just over a year, with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma—DIPG. He was just six years old. Never before have I witnessed grief in my community like it, as people lined the streets to watch that bravest of little men make his way to Cromer crematorium. That little boy captured the spirit of everybody who met him. He was, like the characters that he adored, a little superhero.

I first became involved with the family, Julie and Kevin Pitcher, when helping them to achieve planning permission for their house so that little Benny could live a more comfortable life as his cancer took hold and his health deteriorated, but cruelly he was even robbed of being able to move into the extension when he passed away just a week before the builders finished. That was despite enormous work by the community—hundreds of people helped. I was not an MP at that time, but the Pitchers’ story touched me, like so many others. How could it not touch you to witness a family go through what Kevin and Julie experienced? I am proud to say that I helped them and now call them my friends.

As we all know, the Pitchers will not be the last family to suffer at the hands of the cruellest of childhood cancers, and it is because of stories like theirs that parliamentarians like us must do absolutely everything we can to provide help and support, and ensure that as much funding as possible is provided for scientific research. As we have heard, there is a 0% survival chance with DIPG. There has been no improvement over the last 50 years. In the 21st century, surely that is not good enough. We have to do what we can to turn around the fact that cancer is still the most common cause of death in the under-15s. As we have heard, if we can fund and produce a vaccine for covid in nine months, surely we can do more on childhood cancers and improve the fact that only one fifth of childhood cancer research is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care.

I would also like to make the point that when people’s lives are turned upside down overnight by the knowledge that their child will pass away in a very short time, we must do more to support those families, who end up being carers. Every waking moment should be spent with their child, not worrying about what forms need filling in or where they can go to get help. Where is the one-to-one handholding—the service that really could help to lessen the strain that those families experience?

I want to place on the record my thanks to the incredible communities that I serve and the selfless people who raised so much money to help the Pitcher family, and particularly to the Pitcher family themselves. Their work alone back in North Norfolk has raised the issue of childhood cancers. The incredible strength that the family have shown through such adversity is admired by everybody who meets them. Benny’s father, Kevin, made a promise to his son that he would run a marathon to raise funds for this cause, and it is the true mark of that family that Kevin will fulfil his promise in the spring and honour his son Benny.