A mum who lost her daughter to neuroblastoma has praised a soap for raising awareness of the childhood cancer in a new storyline.
Fans of Coronation Street will soon see Fiz and Tyrone dealing with the news that Hope has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer that mainly affects children.
About 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the UK, of which only about 30 per cent will survive.
While the storyline may be fictitious, it will undoubtedly cover some of the feelings, thoughts and fears Emma Knighton and her family went through when daughter Chelsea was diagnosed with the same disease.
Chelsea fought the cancer for two years, but died on August 9, 2009.
It was Chelsea’s wish before she died that her family would try to help other poorly children like her and this led to the Irthlingborough-based charity Chelsea’s Angels being set up in 2010.
The charity has since raised £141,000 and helped hundreds of children and their families as they fight the cancer.
Chelsea’s mum Emma said: “I’ve already had a few tears watching it.
“I think Jennie McAlpine (Fiz) is playing the part brilliantly, she has got the emotions perfectly.
“I was worried that it wouldn’t come across very well, but she is playing the part well.
“It’s good that they are looking at childhood cancer beause you get storylines about other cancers, like breast cancer and leukaemia, but not childhood cancer.”
Emma said she has already seen some similarities to her experience of having a child with neuroblastoma, such as doctors thinking it may be something else and the cancer not being picked up immediately.
She said: “I think a lot of parents have gone through that.
“If we had caught Chelsea’s early, things could have been different.
“I just wish that when parents take their children to the doctors, they fight their corner and ask for a second opinion because that second opinion could save lives.”
She said it was a brave decision for the ITV soap to tackle the issue and while some may find it difficult to watch, she said: “I think it’s brilliant that they are getting childhood cancer out there.
“We didn’t want to live it, we didn’t want to sit in hospital on Christmas Day but we had to.
“It’s real and people have to realise that it does happen.”
Emma will be watching the storyline unfold in the coming weeks with her daughter Shannon, and she was delighted when actress Jennie McAlpine followed Chelsea’s Angels on Twitter.
They were buoyed by the actress’ support when she sent them a message on Twitter, which said: “I’m so sorry for your loss. Chelsea looks like the most gorgeous special girl. What you’re doing is wonderful.”
Emma’s cousin Michelle Tomkins helps run the charity and when she heard that Coronation Street was running this storyline, she said: “I just thought it was about time.
“Ever since Chelsea was diagnosed, we have been pushing for something like this.
“Even when we were trying to raise the money for her, we were trying to work with people like this and contacted the soaps to say please do something on childhood cancer.
“I think it is brilliant, it needs something like this because people just don’t know much about it.”
Michelle added: “It’s only just beginning, but I am sure that the weeks to come are going to be tough to watch.”
Despite this, Michelle hopes any reaction to the storyline will be positive.
She said: “Hopefully it will have a positive impact, more people will be aware and it will make them realise that more funding is needed for childhood cancer.”
The charity is planning on sending some gold ribbons to Jennie McAlpine for Childhood Cancer Awareness Week, which is in September.
A spokesman for ITV said: “As a soap we aim to portray stories that affect the lives of ordinary people every day and this one is no different.
“Cancer is sadly something that touches many families and we will explore the impact this dreadful disease has on Fiz and Tyrone’s family and those around them.
“Having decided to cover a subject matter like this we obviously work very hard to ensure it is done accurately and sensitively.
“We are working closely with Neuroblastoma Uk and also a local children’s cancer ward in Manchester.”
Sam and Chris Curry from Wellingborough also know what it’s like to lose a child to neuroblastoma.
Their daughter Niamh fought the cancer for 18 months but died aged just five in May 2012.
They set up Niamh’s Next Step in memory of their daughter in the hope of helping other families fighting the childhood cancer and to raise money to fund vital research into neuroblastoma which is not currently funded by the NHS or the UK Government.
Dad Chris said: “It’s great that Coronation Street has chosen neuroblastoma as it will be fantastic awareness from one of the biggest TV shows in Britain, but I’m also a bit nervous about how they are going to cover it.
“I am hoping they will do a really great job but show the reality of it.”
He said lots of people have mentioned it to them since the soap revealed details of its latest storyline, and he added: “They could have quite easily gone for leukaemia or a brain tumour so I take my hat off to the producers because neuroblastoma is very complex.
“But the awareness is fantastic, it’s very brave of them to take it on.”
For more information about Chelsea’s Angels, go to www.chelseasangels.co.uk.
For more details on Niamh’s Next Step, go to www.niamhsnextstep.com.