This month, July 2020, Charlie Williams, from Sudbury, celebrated his 21st birthday party with family and friends. It was a very special day for Charlie because, not only was it a milestone birthday, it was also a time to reflect on how much he had achieved in his life. When he was just five years old when he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a brain tumour which affects about 55 children in the UK every year.
Charlie said he owes his life to research and that’s why he’s sharing his story to help highlight the charity’s new TV fundraising appeal to help Cancer Research UK in its mission get life-saving work back on track, after a devastating loss of funding caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
At one stage Charlie was so ill it was touch or go if he would survive but thanks to his specialist cancer treatment and a dedicated team of doctors and nurses, Charlie was successfully treated. He now wants to share his story in support of Cancer Research UK.
Following the cancellation of fundraising events like Race for Life, the charity is expecting a staggering £160 million drop in income in the year ahead. As a result, Cancer Research UK has had to make the difficult decision to cut £44 million in research funding, but this is likely to be just the beginning.
Charlie knows first-hand the value of research and how difficult it is for a child to undergo cancer treatment after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour 15 years ago. By sharing his story, Charlie hopes to inspire people across Suffolk to donate now.
When Charlie was diagnosed with cancer he had no real understanding of what was going on, he just recalls missing school and not being able to eat his favourite foods because he felt sick all the time.
He endured months of treatment at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, including a seven-hour operation to remove a brain tumour, radiotherapy twice a day for five weeks, and a year of chemotherapy. He also missed two years of school and contracted meningitis before he was given the all-clear.
Looking back on his cancer journey, Charlie said: “Cancer is a horrible disease that effects people personally but also all the people around them in so many different ways, mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s only now that I’m older that I can understand how my cancer impacted so many different people. I remember, my radiotherapy, my chemotherapy, numerous operations, both MRI and CT scans but it was something I just got on with, that was the normality for me back then.”
Charlie has posted a video of himself talking about how his life changed in an instant when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2005.
He added: “I had radiotherapy twice a day for five weeks. We would come home for weekends and go back Monday morning, and that became my life. It’s something nobody should have to go through but unfortunately the world is not that way and it was part of my life. It was something I had to fight for because there was no escape route, no quick fix, or easier way out – it’s something I had to take on day by day.”
Charlie said having cancer as a child and beating it has changed his life.
“My parents, my brother and my sisters didn’t know if I would make it, if I would survive cancer,“ he added. “The small little milestones of completing my radiotherapy, completing my course of chemotherapy may not mean much to the average person, but to us it was huge. It meant that we could move onto the next stage, it meant that the cancer was slowly dying and it would not reform.
“A five year-old child should not be in a hospital bed with a drip line attached to them constantly. A five year-old should be running around in the garden and playing with their friends, playing football, enjoying life and having ice-cream, making memories.
“Unfortunately I had a different start in life but thanks to the amazing research and improvements in cancer treatment I came through and was eventually given the all-clear. It upsets me to think about research being held up and what this might mean for people affected by cancer in the months and years to come.
“By boosting funding now, we can all help to lessen the future impact on patients, So, I hope that people across Suffolk will be moved by the charity’s determination to carry on beating cancer and give what they can.”
Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity currently funds around 50% of all cancer research in the UK.
However, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, promising projects which could have the big answers to cancer are being held up.
Charlie added: “I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through, so please help by supporting Cancer Research UK so their life-saving work can continue – every penny counts in the fight against this dreadful disease.”
Patrick Keely, Cancer Research UK’s spokesman for Suffolk, said: “We’re so grateful to Charlie for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation. COVID-19 has put so much of our research on pause, leaving us facing a crisis where every day and every pound counts.
“With around 35,000 people diagnosed with cancer every year in the East of England,* we will never stop striving to create better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.
“Whether they donate, sign up to Race for Life at Home or shop at our stores – with the help of people in Suffolk, we believe that together we will still beat cancer.”
Cancer Research UK was able to spend nearly £56 million in the East of England last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.