Family faces £70k cancer treatment bill for Isaac, 3
Family discovered cancer had returned during lockdown
09 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Isaac Saunders-Rennards may need to travel to Germany for proton beam therapy
THE family of a three-year-old boy have been told they must raise £70,000 to pay for his cancer treatment.
Isaac Saunders-Rennards had an unimaginably tough start to life when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer as a baby and spent 18 months receiving chemotherapy.
He was later sent for specialist treatment in Germany, which was funded by the NHS. It was a success and during the coronavirus lockdown he could be found telling friends that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up and clapping health workers every Thursday evening.
But – in the peak of the pandemic in April – his parents’ worst nightmare became a reality when experts told them the cancer had returned.
And this time Isaac’s mother, originally from Gospel Oak but now living in Covent Garden, has been told the NHS will not be able to cover the costs of further proton beam therapy abroad.
Shelly Saunders told the New Journal: “When lockdown came and we got that news, my world just crashed. We were living a normal life and had put it behind us. He was so tiny when he went through that stuff, and he had two years of being well.
“All those times we had to pin him down and go through all that unimaginable stuff, to get him well… we will remember it for the rest of our lives, but he doesn’t remember any of it. Now he’s running around, going on a rollercoaster and a trampoline, doing all the things a normal kid does. It’s hard to watch, as he just has no idea. Every hug and kiss, you cherish it.”
Isaac with his mother, Shelly
Experts say proton beam therapy (PBT) – a more precise method of targeting cancer cells – is the best chance of curing his ependymoma. It works especially well on complex brain and neck cancers but the NHS will only commission one course of treatment due to funding restraints.
Ms Saunders added: “It’s the case of every child or parent for whatever type of cancer – there are positive stories alongside the sad stories. “You cling to the hope that you’re going to be the lucky one.”
A £125million PBT centre is being built at University College Hospital – one of what will be just two in the country – but, for now, around 100 families a year are funded to travel to Switzerland, Germany or the United States for the treatment.
Ms Saunders said: “People often ask why the NHS won’t fund for a second time. We say PTB is the recommended treatment for him. It’s our choice to try to fundraise the money. We need to give him the best chance of life. And we are all so grateful for everything the NHS has done so far. “For the rest of his life, he will have MRI scans and follow-ups on the NHS. We will always depend on them.”
She added: “When everyone was clapping the NHS through lockdown he was outside thanking the doctors. It was adorable. He gave me strength. Now he talks about being a doctor when he grows up. Some kids want to be a ninja, a Batman – he wants to make people well.”
Ms Saunders grew up in Weedington Road, Gospel Oak, and went to Acland Burghley in Tufnell Park. She moved to Bloomsbury with her partner when they had their first child. The couple now have five children.
The whole family moved out to live in Germany while Isaac underwent the 33-dose programme of PBT, just days after Ms Saunders had given birth to her youngest child.
Now 39, she had been taking an aviation course to become an airline hostess before the shock news came through.
Ms Saunders said: “I used to think I knew what life was about. I thought it was having a nice house, a job, going on holidays. I will never ever look at material things in the same way again. If I can support someone I will, for the rest of my life. You have to turn negatives into positives to survive it. What you learn is that there’s always someone worse off. Experiencing what we have experienced, what we choose to do is put things back.”
On the impact on her family, she said: “Children deal with it very differently to adults. When my children pass another child’s room in hospital and maybe see them hooked up to a machine with a sick-bucket next to them, they don’t see a sick child. They will simply want to say hello and ask ‘I wonder if they want to play Monopoly with me?’
“One strange thing that happened I wasn’t expecting was my kids became too well behaved, when I knew they were anxious and scared. I remember getting in a lift, and seeing a teenage child answering back to his mum. I was thinking what I would give to show that normality again. I love to see the boys gaming in their bedroom and girls dancing in front of the mirror. If I could bottle that normality, I would.”
The family’s fundraising campaign is supported by the Bradley Lowery Foundation which has raised more than £1.3million.
Ms Saunders added: “Run a raffle, quiz night, art class – any ideas are helpful. It’s been difficult to put on a big event during the lockdown, because you can’t invite people. But pennies and pounds… it all helps us to keep moving forward.”
l To make a donation, visit www.justgiving. com/campaign/isaac-blu-we-got-you