Brother of Overton teen Reece Holt who died after cancer battle speaks out about how tragedy made him consider taking his own life
The brother of Reece Holt - who died at the age of 13 after a battle with brain cancer - has spoken out for the first time about the effect childhood cancer has on the whole family, especially siblings.
Callum has made the brave decision to talk about his experiences after it was revealed by his mum Rachel O'Neil that in January, just after the second anniversary of Reece's death, the 14-year-old told friends he had decided to take his own life.
Thanks to his supportive friends, this was prevented and Callum felt able to reach out to Rachel for help.
And he has now decided to open up publicly in the hope it might help other young people who are struggling to come to terms with a sibling's diagnosis or death.
Callum started self-harming a year after Reece was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016. He was just 10 years old.
He was helped out by CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but things became bad again after Reece's terminal diagnosis in 2018, and escalated further after his death in January 2019.
"In February Callum told me he needed help," Rachel said. "He said he had planned to end his life in January and his friends had talked him out of it and talked him into asking for help.
"This is the side that people don't see - the impact it has on the siblings.
"They don't know how to handle the emotions and they don't know what's going on, and there is survivor's guilt - the amount of times Callum has asked me why it wasn't him.
"The family unit has been torn apart. Callum was pushed from pillar to post while I was in hospital with Reece.
"The mental impact on these children is phenomenal. Grief for children in this situation is different from adults."
In a special message written for The Visitor, Callum said: "I decided to speak out as childhood cancer affects the whole family and watching my brother Reece fight so hard and then to lose him has impacted me very hard.
"It’s just not fair, in fact it’s crap and has made me question life, made me angry and lost.
"So many other brothers and sisters are left with mental health problems and I want them to know it’s OK to speak up and ask for help!
"Reece campaigned to make a difference and if we keep doing it, one day we could change it for kids with cancer and their siblings also won’t have to go through this!"
Rachel said it's important to raise awareness of how much childhood cancer decimates a family.
And she praised the support of Ripley St Thomas, where Callum is a pupil, as well as Pud Waterhouse, whose 16-year-old daughter Sian took her own life in Morecambe in 2018.
"Reece's fight is over but the legacy of childhood cancer is that our struggle continues because Callum is facing this now," Rachel said. "It's a cancer on the whole family.
"It's been a long hard journey for Callum and he's not out of the woods.
"He says he feels lost and doesn't know how to process it. He's 14 and he's wondering what the point is in life. It's so hard for me to find the right words.
"It's very difficult to explain to a teenager what the point in life is when he has watched his brother fight and not win.
"He still doesn't really know how to comprehend a lot of the feelings he's experienced, and he's had to grow up so fast.
"The impact of Reece's journey and loss has been horrific for Callum, and I will continue to fight for these children because I refuse to allow childhood cancer to take both my boys."
Reece had been battling Anaplastic Astrocytoma, a malignant tumour that affects only about 10 children a year, since May 2016.
After he passed away in January 2019, the Lancaster Royal Grammar School pupil's mum Rachel O’Neil vowed to continue her son’s legacy by carrying on the charity work he started when he set up his own charity, Team Reece, to help other children with cancer.
And Team Reece is now hoping people will get involved in a bit of 'May Madness' to help get their fundraising back on track after a year on hold due to Covid-19.
The charity raised an incredible £95,000 in 2019/20, but has been affected badly by the pandemic and a subsequent lack of fundraising opportunities.
Rachel said: "Reece often used humour to help him face his treatment and then his terminal diagnosis and his sense of humour was rather wicked, he was so much fun, he had no shame and we laughed through a lot of his battle!
"We would like your help to mark this occasion with a little bit of May Madness to help us continue the work Reece started because he and many other children deserve more than a few years of life!
"As the lockdown restrictions ease again in May, why not go a little mad and showcase your creative side to raise money for Team Reece."
Rachel has suggested various ways people can get involved, such as a dress up day, super hero day, mad hairstyle day, or a themed day or bake-off for workers returning to an office.
She said: "Whatever you decide to do, let's go crazy, let's have some May Madness because as long as we have your continued support we promise to continue fulfilling Reece’s legacy and help as many childhood cancer families as we can, to be the voice for those children diagnosed, in remission and taken by childhood cancer and to support research in to kinder treatments, one day it could even be a cure!"