A one in 18 million miracle. Four-year-old Sarah Waller looking forward to starting school after beating rare cancer

The Waller family from Barnham.
Mum Alex, Dad Jono and Sarah.
Picture by: Sonya Duncan The Waller family from Barnham. Mum Alex, Dad Jono and Sarah. Picture by: Sonya Duncan

Monday, August 25, 2014
9:30 AM

Sarah Waller is a typical four-year-old full of energy and a passion for children’s cartoon Peppa Pig.

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Sarah Waller during her treatment.Sarah Waller during her treatment.

But when the little girl goes to school for the first time in two weeks it will be an extra special moment for her and her family following an eight month battle with a rare cancer.

When a tumour was found on her liver two years ago, her parents feared the worst when doctors told them that their daughter was one in 18 million to be diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, which had spread to her lungs.

However, the girl from Barnham, near Thetford, bravely fought off the cancer, which involved a long operation to remove a third of her liver and gall bladder and 11 rounds of chemotherapy.

It was the second big battle of her life after she was born 11 weeks early in June 2010 at the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds weighing 2lb.

The Waller family from Barnham.
Mum Alex, Dad Jono and Sarah.
Picture by: Sonya DuncanThe Waller family from Barnham. Mum Alex, Dad Jono and Sarah. Picture by: Sonya Duncan

Alex and Jono Waller, who both work for Suffolk Police in Mildenhall, said they were now looking forward to their daughter growing up following a roller coaster five years, which began with Mrs Waller receiving IVF treatment on the NHS to conceive their first child.

However, 29 weeks into the pregnancy, she was rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean section as a result of pre-eclampsia.

Sarah spent the first nine weeks of her life in hospital, but had countless visits to see specialists during her first two years battling problems with her heart and intestine as well as numerous infections.

Sarah was discharged from the care of neonatal staff in May 2010. However, two months later, her parents received an even bigger shock.

March on cancer

Norwich has been chosen as one of only 15 cities to host a March On Cancer event, which will take place simultaneously around the UK on Saturday, October 11.

The fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK aims to raise money to fund vital research which will get new and better treatments to cancer patients faster.

The first UK Stand Up To Cancer took place in 2012 and raised over £8m for research. This year, there are many ways to get involved and help save lives.

Jane Redman, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Norfolk, said: “We are so excited to be holding our first March On Cancer in Norwich. This event is for everyone - adults and children.”

“March On Cancer is a defiant show of force, with people in Norwich joining tens of thousands across the UK, all marching through the streets and making their voices heard. We are asking everyone to start their fundraising ahead of the March and continue after, to help us beat cancer sooner.”

Starting at 7.30pm at the Forum in Norwich, participants will come together and march for 45 minutes through the streets accompanied by live music, entertainment and stories from people who have beaten cancer.

For more information, visit http://www.standuptocancer.org.uk/

Mr Waller, 39, said: “I took her to the doctors in Ixworth because there was a lump on her tummy and I could not tell if it was constipation or bloating and the GP said we needed to go to the West Suffolk Hospital straight away. We had the GP appointment at 11am and by 5pm we were on the children’s cancer ward at Addenbrooke’s. It was a brilliant call by the GP.”

“It was a massive tumour on her liver and she had two tiny tumours on her lungs. The liver tumour was big enough that other organs had to move to accommodate it,” he said.

Sarah received eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumours during August, September and October 2012 and on October 31 2012 she had an eight hour operation to remove part of her liver at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Her last round of chemo was in January 2013, which helped destroy the tumours in her lungs

Children’s cancer factfile

• An average of around 1,500 children a year in the UK are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is relatively rare in children, accounting for less than 1pc of all cancers.

• Leukaemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children.

• Hepatoblastoma is a malignant tumour of the liver which usually occurs in young children.

• About 10 to 15 children develop hepatoblastoma in the UK each year. The average age at diagnosis is one year and most cases occur before two years of age.

• Hepatoblastoma usually presents as a lump in the tummy. Other symptoms include: poor appetite, weight loss, lethargy, fever, vomiting and jaundice.

• In Great Britain childhood cancer incidence rates have increased by more than 40pc since the late 1960s. The reasons for this are poorly understood, though improvements in diagnosis are likely to have played a part.

• The survival rate for children’s cancer has more than doubled since the 1960s.

• Five year survival rates for children with hepatoblastoma have more than trebled since the late 1970s.

The couple praised the “amazing” support of the staff at the West Suffolk Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge during their daughter’s eight month treatment for cancer.

“We are very lucky and she is a bit of a miracle,” said Mrs Waller, 39.

“If someone said before that this would have happened with an extremely premature baby who had cancer at two, I would not have thought I could get through that. But you do because you do not have a choice and you get on with it.”

“The first couple of weeks after diagnosis are a bit of a blank. Maybe it is the way your mind deals with extreme stress and we found we got into a routine after that. Once the tumour had gone, we felt on the home straight.”

Mr Waller added: “When she was first diagnosed we did not know how it would go and if we would ever see her go to school.”

“With Sarah going to school, that is the real start of normality and the rest of her life. With a one in a 18 million chance, I may send her to buy a lottery ticket!”

Their daughter is looking forward to her first day at Barnham Primary School on September 5.

The family is also set to lead a March on Cancer event in Norwich in October to help raise money and promote the work of Cancer Research UK.

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