Ipswich teenager Harrison fights rare cancer – the first case of its kind worldwide for 10 years
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
From healthy teenager to fighting a cancer which nobody in the world has suffered for 10 years – this is the extraordinary battle faced by Ipswich teenager Harrison Farrow.
It started with what felt like an insect bite. Teenager Harrison Farrow brushed his leg to flick away what he thought was a bug, thinking nothing else of it.
A tiny lump had appeared on the 17-year-old’s leg but at the time, it seemed innocuous.
However, it would be the start of an extraordinary six months for Harrison and his family, which has seen him fighting a highly rare form of cancer – believed to be the first case of its kind in the world for ten years.
Today, the Ipswich teenager and his family are speaking out about the ordeal to raise awareness, and to voice their gratitude to the Teenage Cancer Trust, NHS, friends and family for their support at such a traumatic time.
That initial moment of discomfort for Harrison happened in March, but it soon became clear that it hadn’t been an insect bite at all.
As the days went on, concern grew among the teenager and his family, who live in the Bixley Farm area of Ipswich.
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Harrison’s father, Craig, said: “It carried on for a couple of weeks and it was growing a bit each day. It was the day he passed his driving test that he had the afternoon free, so we took him to the doctors. The doctors didn’t really have a clue what it was.”
He was sent away with antibiotics, but after 10 days they returned to the GP and were sent to see a dermatologist at Ipswich Hospital.
That appointment, in May, heightened fears that the lump – now far bigger and growing at a rapid rate - was actually very sinister.
Craig recalled: “They took one look at it and you could see the look in their face - they hadn’t a clue what it was and they were very concerned about it.”
Biopsies were taken and Harrison later received the devastating news it was plasmablastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma - almost unheard of in a person of his age.
His mother, Fiona, said: “It’s high grade, very aggressive.”
The family had been due to go away, but Fiona added: “They suggested we cancel the holiday – we knew something really wasn’t right at all.”
But because this cancer is so rare, there is no clear medical plan for how to treat it. Specialists around the world have been monitoring the case and Harrison’s progress.
Harrison, a former Copleston High School pupil who is now an apprentice with Seafast in Felixstowe, began chemotherapy in June at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Each phase takes up to six days, during which he stays at the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit there.
He is now undergoing his sixth and final phase of chemotherapy, before starting four weeks of radiotherapy at Ipswich Hospital in October.
His family say without the TCT facility at Addenbrooke’s, the ordeal would have been so much harder. The unit at Addenbrooke’s is comfortable, has excellent facilities and the likes of a pool table, TV and jukebox.
What made Harrison’s diagnosis all the more shocking was the fact this had happened to such a healthy young man – bar an episode of glandular fever in February.
He has played for a number of local football teams, and had been turning out for Coplestonians, even as the lump continued to grow.
As he continues to go through treatment, he wants to raise awareness among people to get any unusual lumps and bumps checked out. His message is: “Life is very precious.”
Craig added: “What the TCT would also like is more knowledge with GPs. GPs may only see a teenage cancer once in their whole career or maybe never.”
Looking ahead, Harrison and his family, including girlfriend Fifi Kent, and brother Callum, remain focused on him beating the illness.
It remains unclear what will happen after the radiotherapy. One option is an autologous transplant - in which his white blood cells are removed, he is given a very heavy dose of chemotherapy, before the blood cells are then replaced.
Despite facing such severe treatment and its side-effects, including hair loss, Harrison’s strength and attitude has left his family proud.
“He is an inspiration,” said Craig, “because with everything they do to him, he just takes it in his stride and doesn’t cause a fuss.
“It is his 18th birthday in December – hopefully everything with be finished by then, if he is clear we plan to go on a fabulous holiday, come back and get on with a normal life.”
The extraordinary work of the Teenage Cancer Trust
The Farrow family say they are so grateful for the support they’ve had since Harrison’s diagnosis – from the Teenage Cancer Trust, in particular.
Mother Fiona said: “For every one teenager they can help, there is another one that they cannot reach, due to availability of TCT units around the country.
“The thought of Harrison having to be on a ward with some patients coming to the end of life and not having the support of TCT would make his journey 100% worse for him and also for us.”
As well at the TCT unit at Addenbrooke’s, the charity has also provided invaluable emotional support to the entire family.
The TCT even arranged, through the Sports Connections Foundation, for him to have a VIP trip to Wembley for England’s recent match against Spain.
Harrison’s employer Seafast has also been hugely supportive, while Axa, where Fiona works, have given her time off to be with him at Addenbrooke’s
And Harrison’s brother Callum also ran Sunday’s Great East Run with workmates from RBF Cargo Care in Felixstowe to raise money for the TCT.
• To sponsor him, visit this fundraising page
Close friends Oliver, Charlie and Fifi’s brother Oscar have also had their heads shaved for the TCT. To support them visit here