Ten year old Amelia Brome couldn’t wait to leap back into the swimming pool after a 10-month gap, while she underwent life-saving proton beam therapy (PBT) for cancer in the USA.
Swimming mad Amelia from Ingol, near Preston - described by her parents as ‘part fish’ - had to stop her four-times-a-week swims in January this year after she was diagnosed with a rare nasal cancer. But following her referral by The Christie for successful PBT treatment in the USA, she has just been given the go ahead to get back in the water.
Amelia’s father Michael said: “This is a moment we feared at times we might not see. Amelia couldn’t wait. She just loves to pretend she is a dolphin or a mermaid.”
Towards the end of 2016 Amelia developed a cold, which she could not shake off. After six weeks her mother took her to her GP who prescribed antibiotics for sinusitis. When Amelia’s symptoms did not improve and she began having severe headaches, Cheryl took her to Preston Hospital, where sinusitis was again confirmed. It was not until a new GP noticed that Amelia’s eye was partially closed that she was sent to Preston Hospital for an urgent MRI and later that same day, Michael and Cheryl were given the devastating news that a sizeable mass had been identified in Amelia’s nasal cavity. A bed had already been organised for her at Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Manchester Royal Children’s Hospital diagnosed a nasal rhabdomyosarcoma (an uncommon soft-tissue sarcoma) and she began chemotherapy. She was then referred to leading cancer centre The Christie, where her consultant, Dr Roval Colaco told her parents to prepare themselves to go to the USA as Amelia’s cancer was inoperable and that PBT offered her the best chance of long-term survival.
Michael said: “We were almost elated, because at least the consultants knew what it was and what they were going to do about it. The worst nightmare would have been if they did not know what it was, or how to treat it.”
PBT is a specialist form of radiotherapy that targets cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It targets tumours with less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and is particularly appropriate for certain cancers in children who are at risk of lasting damage to organs that are still growing.
It has been offered overseas to NHS patients who are eligible for treatment in England since 2008 in a programme that has to date supported approximately 1,000 patients. From August 2018 The Christie will begin treating patients in Manchester as the UK’s first NHS high energy centre. University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) will follow in summer 2020.
Amelia, who is a pupil at Harris Primary School, Fulwood in Preston, and her mother Cheryl flew out to Jacksonville, Florida in the middle of April this year, but Michael had to wait another week as he was refused a US visa twice and only succeeded in being granted one after getting the support of his local MP.
“It was pretty horrible having to drop my wife and daughter at the airport whilst I was stuck on my own at home,” says Michael. “How can you split up a family at a time like this?”
Amelia went through 30 sessions of PBT in Jacksonville, Monday to Friday. The family returned in early July.
Michael says: “The treatment we had in the USA was brilliant and the staff were great, but lovely as it was, you are 8,000 miles away from home and your support networks. It’s a massive upheaval for the whole family and not everyone is as lucky with their employers as Cheryl and I are. It would all have been so much easier if Amelia had been able to have her treatment in Manchester, and we are so glad knowing that proton beam therapy is coming to The Christie next year.”
Amelia’s consultant, Dr Rovel Colaco said: “Amelia is a bright and happy child with an excellent chance of recovery following the treatment she received in Jacksonville. However in the future, patients like Amelia can look forward to the opportunity of having PBT here in the UK closer to their friends and family and with less upheaval during a very stressful time in their lives.”
And Faz Sadri, fitness manager at Total Fitness in Preston, said: “It was incredible to see Amelia splashing around in the water and getting back to her normal self. Everyone at the club is so pleased to see how she’s reacted to the treatment.”
Over the last century, The Christie radiotherapy department has pioneered many advances in radiotherapy. It already leads in advanced radiotherapy, delivering more complex treatments than any other centre in the country. The introduction of proton beam therapy will allow it to continue to make advances in this area and improve patient treatment and care.
As well as welcoming PBT to The Christie next year, the hospital is also just one of seven sites in the world to host a pioneering MR-linac radiotherapy machine. It combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning and tumour-busting radiotherapy treatment in one hi-tech package. The machine, which will start treating patients next year will precisely locate tumours, tailor the shape of the x-ray beams in real time, and lock on to the tumour during treatment – even when tumour tissue is moving during treatment e.g. in the lung as a patient breathes.