Molly Howarth was 16 and midway through her GCSE exams when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
In May 2016, Molly began to suffer with headaches, nausea and dizziness, which doctors initially linked to the stress of her exams. But Molly’s symptoms continued to worsen and during an English exam, her parents were asked to come and collect her as she was so unwell.
Molly, from Rochdale, was taken straight to hospital and referred for an MRI scan. She was sadly diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour called an Ependymoma, which is a tumour that arises from the ependyma, a tissue of the central nervous system, just a week after her last exam.
Three days later, Molly had surgery at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, and just three weeks later travelled to Florida for more than two months so she could receive life-saving proton beam therapy. The UK’s first NHS high-energy proton beam therapy centre is due to open at The Christie later this year, which will prevent many patients like Molly travelling overseas for treatment.
Her mum Jane said: “Within the course of a few days, our lives were turned upside down. Molly was a normal, happy teenager enjoying ballet lessons and preparing for her GCSEs. Although she had got steadily more poorly, and we knew she was fighting a brain tumour, I think we only really grasped the seriousness of her condition when it was mentioned we would have to go abroad for treatment because it wasn’t available in the UK.”
So on 25 July 2016, Molly, her parents Jane and Richard and her older sister Alice travelled to Florida. Jane added: “We do everything as a family so we decided this wouldn’t be any different. Fortunately my older daughter Alice had just completed her A levels, and both our employers were very understanding which allowed us to stick together.”
In Florida, Molly underwent 33 treatments sessions of proton beam therapy over a course of six weeks.
Jane said: “We couldn’t be more grateful for the fact we had the opportunity to travel to America for treatment as it saved Molly’s life – but it wasn’t an easy experience. It was very strange to be uprooted from your home and wider family at just the time when you need support. Having a centre here in the UK will make such a tremendous difference to patients.”
Molly added: “Having cancer is difficult enough without having to travel abroad for treatment. Even though my family were with me, I felt very lonely and cut off from my friends.”
Molly was still in America when she discovered that despite her illness, she achieved 7 A* and 4 A grades in her GCSEs. Now 18, Molly remains cancer free and is currently midway through her A levels and hopes to go to university next year.
She is also using her own experience to help future patients at The Christie. As part of a working group of patients, Molly has been instrumental in advising designers what facilities would be beneficial for teenagers as well as younger patients.
Longer term, her experience has also influenced her future and she hopes to study clinical psychology so she can help other children who have been affected by cancer.