One year ago Reece Holt was hooked up to life support battling a rare brain tumour – now he is all smiles after being given a Visitor Sunshine Award.
Reece was diagnosed with Malignant Anaplastic Astrocytoma in May 2016, after suddenly collapsing at his home in Overton.
The 11-year-old has a type of brain cancer which affects just five to eight people per 100,000 and is more common in adults than children.
A gruelling 12 cycle chemotherapy treatment has not stopped Reece’s determination to help other children with cancer.
His fundraising efforts with project Team Reece have touched the community and will earn him the title of Young Achiever at the Visitor’s Sunshine Awards on May 12.
“I am so proud of him,” said mum Rachel O’Neil.
“He has done really well, he doesn’t let anything stop him, he is not ‘woe is me’, he just gets on with it.”
“We are going to need a trophy cabinet, hey mum?,” said Star Wars-obsessed Reece who also won Primary School Pupil of the Year at the Visitor’s Education Awards.
But there was a time when mother and son didn’t know what the future would hold.
Rachel looks back on the morning of May 5 2016 – a day which will stick in her mind forever.
“It was a huge shock, that morning he was my cheeky boy throwing smelly socks in my face, five hours later he was on life support fighting for his life,” said the mum-of-two.
Two weeks after having his tonsils removed Reece became ill and the family thought he contracted an infection.
When he began to be violently sick Rachel knew there was something seriously wrong.
“It was so violent, it was like something out of The Exorcist,” said Rachel.
“He said his head was hurting and his left arm was burning.”
A visit to the GP turned into a rush to hospital after Reece became unconscious.
He was taken for a brain scan at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary where the family were told he had suffered a large bleed on the brain.
“It was that big they couldn’t see the tumour,” said Rachel.
Reece was transferred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. He recovered and was sent home but 24 hours later he collapsed.
He spent a further eight weeks at Alder Hey where doctors removed 95 per cent of the tumour and began radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“You question yourself all the time, how did I not know, how did I not see it?” said Rachel
“He was on strong antibiotics from his tonsillitis so that could have masked out any symptoms. It is scary because these symptoms are what anyone has with a viral infection, a headache, dizziness, sickness.”
Reece’s illness impacted the whole family especially his younger brother Callum, 10.
Callum spent most of his time with other family members whilst Rachel stayed with Reece in hospital.
“I thought I done the right thing by not involving Callum as much but it made him feel like he had been pushed out,” said Rachel.
“He was heartbroken because he was missing me and Reece. It wasn’t easy, Auntie Hayley Bentley has been a massive help looking after Callum, the whole family has.
“It does make me feel for people who don’t have a wider family like ours.”
Reece left Alder Hey in a wheelchair and couldn’t move his left side of his body.
“He used the wheelchair twice and then chucked it and said he was going to walk,” said Rachel. “It is just his left hand now and he has problems with his feet.”
After leaving hospital Reece and Rachel began to realise how rare his tumour was and how little research was available.
They set up Team Reece, which is in final stages of becoming a registered charity, raising more than £9,000 for Alder Hey.
Now Team Reece have been approached by Alder Hey to help fund vital research into brain tumours in children, which will cost £40k.
Over the next three years Team Reece will be fundraising to help fund the study which will impact future treatment.
“To be involved in this and have our name on the research is fantastic, it is an exciting time,” said Rachel.
Rachel has applauded her son’s bravery since his diagnosis and says his willingness to open up to other’s makes it easier. “It is almost still taboo, my child has got cancer, people are almost afraid to say it and talk about it,” she said.
“It has been hard, knowing you can’t take the pain away.
“Reece has made it easier, he will barely look up from the TV when I give him his medication.
“We have just got to find the silver lining in the cloud and make it something positive.”
Reece, who will begin his tenth chemotherapy cycle in two weeks, will take part in Badass Mucker in June this year to help towards the fundraising.
Rachel is also hoping to apply for a Team Reece float to appear at Morecambe Carnival in August.
Team Reece is also in the process of raising funds for a caravan for families who have children with cancer who may need precious quality time away.
Rachel, Reece, and all the family would like to thank everyone who has supported them on their journey so far.