School supports leukaemia-struck pupils

EIGHT-year-old cancer victim Charlie Bishop may owe his life to his primary school, where three out of the 300 pupils are suffering with devastating leukaemia.

James Mortlock

EIGHT-year-old cancer victim Charlie Bishop may owe his life to his primary school, where three out of the 300 pupils are suffering with devastating leukaemia.

Teachers and staff at St Mary's in Mildenhall believe heightened awareness of the disease made them acutely aware of possible symptoms and only days after they urged Charlie's parents to take him to the doctor he was diagnosed.

Now, a year-and-a-half on, the youngster has undergone nine months of intensive chemotherapy and is currently on a three-year-course of drugs which specialists hope will rid him of the disease.

His mother, Keilley Bishop said she and her husband Tony had noticed their boy was more exhausted than usual but put it down to his age and the amount of running around he was doing. She explained it was only when staff at the school said he was abnormally tired and pale and that she should have him checked out that she went to the doctor.

She said: “It was the school that confirmed my own worries and prompted me to take him to the doctor and they have been brilliant ever since.

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“To be able to send Charlie to school when he can go has been vital - children can get quite isolated if they're not surrounded by their peers as much as possible.”

The school's response to the grim statistic of three pupils in its current roll of 300 suffering with leukaemia has been to embrace the three pupils - Charlie, Sam Sharp, aged six, and five-year-old Bethany Way.

They are all welcomed and encouraged back to school during their treatment whenever possible, other pupils and parents have been informed and educated on childhood leukaemia and a massive fundraising initiative has been launched to raise money for cancer charities.

The three cancer sufferers have also helped write an information booklet for all families at the school about the disease - and their own feelings on having it.

The fundraising culminated on Saturday when the three cancer victims were joined by staff, pupils, parents and governors for a fun day in the grounds.

Karen Miller, child and family support co-ordinator at the school, said the aim of the event, which included 5km runs around Mildenhall, raffles, sponsored laps of the school field and bouncy castles, was to continue the drive to raise awareness and cash.

Mrs Miller said the three cancer cases in the school - the national rate is around one child in every 5,000 - had heightened understanding of the disease for all staff, parents and pupils. She said: “The number of children we have with leukaemia is extremely high - there are many, many schools that don't have any.

“But our aim has been to get them into school when possible because school is not just about targets and exams. It's about encouraging play and socialising.”

Sam's father, Lee Sharp, said the school's approach was crucial: “The school has been absolutely brilliant. Sam misses four to five days a month and he gets a bit tearful and depressed - that's one of the worst things. He wants to get back to school where he is treated as normally as possible.”

Mr Sharp said his son, who is due to finish his treatment at the end of August and his condition will then be checked on a regular basis, was in hospital with pneumonia only two weeks ago thanks to the effect of the drugs on his immune system.

He said: “Sam spent two days in hospital on an antibiotic drip but on Tuesday he was back at school - that's typical of him. He was playing football and had a lesson at the local golf club.”

Sam's mother, Sarah, said she was grateful to the school: “The staff and pupils have supported us brilliantly through difficult times and we thank the community for their donations to our appeal for the leukaemia charities.”

Anyone who wants to donate to the school's cancer fund should call 01638 713317.

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