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Raising awareness of rare childhood cancer
No-one could be more pleased about the Department of Health’s decision to alert new parents to the warning signs of a childhood cancer than Greenwich student Jade Shackcloth.
The 22-year-old helped the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) which campaigned for the move because early detection of retinoblastoma when she was three proved to be a lifesaver.
Now the symptoms of the eye cancer will be included in the Personal Child Health Record – also known as the red book – which is distributed to new parents following the birth of a child.
“What CHECT have achieved is fantastic,” said Jade. “It is rare to come across someone else with retinoblastoma and many doctors don’t know much about it either. When I was growing up in Norfolk there wasn’t much help for my parents and they didn’t know anyone else whose child had this type of cancer. CHECT helps put parents in touch with each other which is a huge help.”
Jade’s parents, Spencer and Sherrilee, offered support to other parents whose children have been diagnosed with retinoblastoma – and they’re able to tell a real success story as Jade is a shining example of triumph over adversity.
Her parents were in their early 20s when her dad noticed a ‘cat’s eye’ reflection in her eye. Luckily, their GP was studying childhood cancers and recognised the warning sign. Within days, Jade was moved from the local hospital in Norwich to St Bart’s in London where her parents faced the heart-rending choice of either chemotherapy or enucleation – removal of the eye. They opted to enucleate when it became clear the tumour was too large for chemo.
“I believe they made absolutely the right choice but it must have been a huge decision,” said Jade. “My mum was only 22 and my dad was 25 when I was diagnosed – they were really young, the age I am now. I can’t imagine making the decision.”
Jade’s parents never made an issue about the fact she had an artificial eye, and she says they were responsible for her remarkable resilience, even when she was bullied at secondary school.
“Fortunately I have really great parents who helped me through it all,” said Jade. “When I eventually left school, with just five GCSEs because I could only attend part-time, my parents supported me when I went to college in Suffolk.”
Jade had to leave at 5.30am to get to West Suffolk College in Suffolk at 8.30am each day to continue her studies. But she persevered and is now about to enter the final year of her BA in Childhood Studies at Greenwich University.
“I got myself through it and am proud of what I accomplishedm,” she said.
Now she wants to work with young people who have had troubled childhoods – young offenders or teenagers who have dropped out of school – because she feels her experiences growing up help her to understand their problems.
“I would like to help young people the system has forgotten about,” said Jade. “I could easily have dropped out of school if it hadn’t been for my parents, so I understand.”
Since coming to Greenwich she has met her fiancé, Oliver, 25, a jeweller from Bromley, and the couple are planning to marry in May 2014 after Jade has graduated. The couple, who currently live in West Wickham, are currently saving to buy a home in Norfolk.
And there was more good news for them after Jade was recently called for a genetics test. Using blood tests and pathology samples from the eye they removed, doctors were able to reassure Jade that she was clear of the cancer and the retinoblastoma was not hereditary in her case, which meant she won’t pass the condition to her children.
“I was in ASDA when I got the test results and I just cried,” said Jade. “It was just great to know I was finally clear of the cancer.”
For more information about retinoblastoma visit www.chect.org.uk. To get in touch with Jade visit www.jadebythesea.com