Every week a range of topics are discussed in the House of Commons. However, last week, the debate on Childhood Cancer (led by the brilliant Dame Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport) was one of the most moving I have witnessed.
Childhood Cancer is never an easy issue to speak about. However, the statistics speak for themselves. 1 in 320 children will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20. 12 children are diagnosed each day in the UK. And cancer is the number one killer of children by disease under the age of 14.
Since my election in 2019, I have been working closely with Sara and David Wakeling. Two Sevenoaks residents, who now run the amazing charity Alice’s Arc (https://www.alicesarc.org/) in memory of their daughter, Alice Wakeling. It was an honour to be joined by Sara who sat in the public gallery for the debate, and to have the chance to speak to her afterwards.
With Sara’s permission, I used my speech in the chamber to reflect on Alice’s story. And, given its importance, I would like to use my column this week to reflect on it once again.
Alice was a healthy three-year-old girl, who began to develop a small lump on her neck. After 8 weeks of incorrect diagnoses and tests, the family finally heard the news anyone would dread. The lump, which had continued to grow, was a stage 4, fusion positive, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma - the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma which accounts for 5% of childhood cancer cases. In Alice’s case, the primary tumour was attached to a gland in her neck, and there was a small tumour in her lung. She was given a 50:50 chance of survival over five years.
After gruelling procedures, and international travel to secure the best and most advanced curative treatments, Alice proudly rang the end of treatment bell twice. However, sadly her final relapse left her and her family with no more treatment options.
Aged seven, she was taken home, under the care of the out-patient palliative team at Great Ormond Street, where she died peacefully two months later.
Alice’s story is sadly not an isolated one locally. During the debate, we also heard from my neighbour Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling. Tom spoke powerfully about the Scott family - who were previously Sevenoaks constituents and whom I worked closely with over the pandemic to support their son Liam. Liam had neuroblastoma cancer and had to fly to America for an experimental vaccine. After a long and gruelling course of treatment I am pleased to say he is currently in remission, and I very much hope he stays that way.
After each and every account in the debate last week, MPs from across the political divide were united in their call for change. Childhood cancer needs more research, more training of GPs, and more education so that parents can be aware of the signs.
Alice had exhausted the treatment options on offer for rhabdomyosarcoma treatment. This must change and we need to do better for the next generation of children who will be diagnosed with this terrible disease. As your MP I will work with MPs across the House of Commons and with the Government to help make this a reality.