Community rallies after five-year-old Benny's shock cancer diagnosis
PUBLISHED: 19:42 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:32 03 May 2019
When north Norfolk couple Kevin and Julie Pitcher's youngest son Bennedict began showing signs of muscle weakness on the left side of his face while on a family holiday in Skegness two weeks ago, doctors at a walk-in medical centre put the five-year-old's symptoms down to side effects from an untreated infection and prescribed antibiotics.
But, stopping off at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, on their way home after the youngster showed no improvement, the couple, who live at East Runton, near Cromer, were given devastating news.
“We waited all day for a CT scan and, when they got the results, they took us into a quiet room and told us he had a mass on his brain,” Mrs Pitcher, 39, said.
Family members arrived to collect the couple's other three children, Brannigan, 12, Ruby, 10, and Roseanna, 8, as Bennedict, who is known as Benny to family and friends, was taken by ambulance with his parents to Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge.
Further tests there showed the youngster had diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a deadly and aggressive type of childhood brain cancer.
“It was just a whirlwind,” Mrs Pitcher said, “To have your whole life change just like that and know there is nothing you can do about it is just terrible.”
Devoted dad Mr Pitcher, who is well known in the area for his spectacular entries into the parent and child category of Sheringham carnival street races, which he has won four years on the trot, struggled to come to terms with the heart-wrenching news.
“I just was on the floor,” he said. “Benny was so brave and to lie holding my son's legs as he went through the scanner praying, 'please look after my boy', is something that will stay with me for ever.”
Because the tumour is located in his brain stem, doctors cannot operate and chemotherapy would be ineffective, but Benny is being treated with steroids and is due to start a two-week course of radiotherapy treatment at Addenbrooke's, which doctors hope will slow the growth of the tumour.
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“We are struggling to make plans and can't think about the future at the moment, we are just focusing on our children and spending as much time as possible with Benny while he is well,” Mrs Pitcher said.
'Overwhelming' fundraising appeal tops £2,000 in 24 hours
Since Benny's diagnosis, friends have set up an online fundraising appeal, which raised more than £2,000 in just 24 hours.
The appeal has now topped £3,500 and the couple, who have had to temporarily stop work to look after Benny, are hoping to use the cash to take their children on holiday, buy specialist equipment and set up a sensory room at home.
Mr Pitcher, 45, is also hoping to set up a support group for other parents of children with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
“We have just been overwhelmed with the support we have received from the community as a whole and the number of people who have been there for us is just incredible, I don't know what we would have done without them,” he said.
To donate to Benny's appeal, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bennytoeurodisney