Corby teenager raising awareness of childhood cancer symptoms ten years after he beat the disease

Every day in the UK, an average of 12 children and young people will receive the news that they have cancer.

By Alison Bagley
Friday, 11th September 2020, 11:29 am
Updated Friday, 11th September 2020, 11:31 am

A Corby teenager and his mum are asking parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the potentially fatal disease from which he recovered.

September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and also the anniversary of Karen Harvey's son Alfe being diagnosed with B Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Ten years on, and 16-year-old Alfe is clear of the disease and ready to start a health and social course at Tresham College in Corby.

It was at the start of the school term in September 2009 when six-year-old Alfe, then living in Duston, Northampton had complained of pains in his legs.

Mum Karen, 43, said: "Alfe had always been an energetic child. At the end of the summer holidays we began to notice that he was tiring easily, wanted to sleep more often and had gone off food. He had also randomly woken in the night crying because of pains in his legs.

"We took him to the doctor's and he was in pain. It was put down to a virus. By the weekend Alfe’s symptoms got worse. We noticed a vein protruding from his chest and he began to make a clicking sound when he breathed."

After another visit to the emergency appointment at the GP on the Monday, Alfe was sent straight to Northampton General Hospital's children's Disney Ward for blood tests and an ultrasound on his stomach.

Karen and Alfe

Alfe only remembers some of his experience, including being transferred in an ambulance to Birmingham Children's Hospital where he was told he had B Cell Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and would need to start chemotherapy.

He said: "I don't remember much but I do remember that the pains in my legs were like daggers going through them. In the ambulance they had put some teddy bears dangling above me so I was watching them. I didn't know what was going on."

Alfe's condition deteriorated rapidly as the tumour was very aggressive it began squashing his lungs and distending his stomach.

He had to be on oxygen to support his breathing and morphine to help manage the pain. By the Friday, Alfe was moved to intensive care where he was ventilated.

Be Child Cancer Aware

Karen feared that he might die but he pulled through and joined the main oncology ward where he began making friends with children who also had forms of cancer.

After spending Christmas in hospital, and nine months of gruelling chemotherapy, Alfe went into remission in July 2010 and was determined to help other sick children.

He designed Christmas cards and sold them to buy toys for children in hospital including two of his friends who had relapsed with Leukaemia.

The family set up a charity, Alfe's Cause, to support families living in Northamptonshire whose children are diagnosed with cancer by organising and funding quarterly activity meetings, funding therapy sessions and providing grants to help during financial difficulties.

Alfe during chemotherapy

Karen and Alfe now attach a signs and symptoms card to their information leaflets to ensure that parents are child cancer aware.

She said: "Most times pains won't be cancer. Parents are very intuitive. We were lucky that the second time we went to the doctor we saw the same one twice and he presented differently. He was referred straight away.

"I want people to know the signs and symptoms and keep them in the back of your head."

Alfe will now be taking on a larger role in the charity.

He added: "Now I'm older I want to get more involved and I will be taking more of a lead. I want to do a massive family-friendly festival somewhere in Corby. I'm a survivor."

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Karen and Alfe

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Alfe Game