Emma Payton

Emma Payton

Emma Payton, from Gatley, was just 8 years old when she was diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

Emma's mum, Tracey Payton was devastated when the family were given the news: "It really is the most horrendous thing you could ever hear as a parent, and you would swap places with your child if at all possible," she says.

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare. About 3,300 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.

Emma's sarcoma was treated with nine bouts of chemotherapy and she also participated in an extra chemotherapy trial. Following that she had an operation to remove the tumour. Although the tumour was just 3.5cm the operation took nine hours, as it was wrapped around her cheekbone. She then needed radiotherapy treatment. 

Ideal candidate 

However, standard radiotherapy treatment was not appropriate for Emma. Her consultant at The Christie, Dr Ed Smith, recommended her as an ideal candidate for Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) because of her age and the location of her tumour.

Tracey said: "I didn't know anything about childhood cancer or radiotherapy but we were told by our consultant that standard radiation treatment would be detrimental to Emma's learning and development because her tumour was in her face. Proton Beam Therapy would reduce the risks to Emma's development, so we had to do it.” 

Stressful time 

The week of Emma's operation was a stressful time, Tracey says: "Emma had her surgery and a round of chemotherapy, after that she was allowed to come home and after just one day at home we flew out to America for her Proton Beam Therapy treatment. She was mortified to have a wheelchair on the plane, her head was swollen from the operation and she had no hair and eyelashes from the chemo. She was so embarrassed."

The whole family made the journey to Oklahoma including Emma's dad Phil, Emma's twin brother Ben, her older sister Holly and her grandmother.

The family had to stay in Oklahoma for eight weeks before Emma had recovered enough from her operation to have the Proton Beam Therapy. She had 23 short bursts of the therapy and had to wear a specially created mask to pin her to the bed while the therapy took place. 

Moved and inspired 

On her final day of treatment in Oklahoma, Emma was invited to ring a bell to mark the end of her journey. The family were so moved and inspired by this, they have donated and distributed 56 bells to hospitals across the UK since returning home.

Currently the NHS has to send patients needing Proton Beam Therapy abroad for treatment. But the Government has pledged £250m to build two new proton beam therapy centres in the UK. The Christie has been chosen as one of those sites, the other is University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The Christie Proton Beam Therapy site is due to open in 2018 and will treat up to 750 patients a year at full capacity.

Emma's bell will be housed in the new state-of-the-art Proton Beam Therapy centre at The Christie when it opens.