After being diagnosed with cancerous tumours in both eyes at just seven months old in 2009, Thomas Hale endured “months and months” of surgery and now faces life with limited sight.
The brave seven-year-old has been described as showing maturity beyond his years. But just as deserving of praise is his older sister Beth, 11, who has given her younger brother unrelenting support and sacrificed her own time to help him live a normal life.
Now in an unprecedented move, a national eye cancer charity has honoured both the siblings, from Savile Park in Halifax, at the same time, as part of its annual awards recognising the bravery of children affected by the condition.
The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) has named Thomas and Beth as two of its CHECT Champions for 2015 “in recognition of the courage and bravery they display while one of them battled against a rare form of cancer”.
Thomas was diagnosed in 2009 with retinoblastoma, a cancer affecting the retina of children predominantly under the age of six which can lead to children losing one, or both, of their eyes.
Treatment to combat the tumour in Leeds and at Birmingham Children’s Hospital was a success, but left Thomas with limited sight and needing to be monitored by doctors for the rest of his life.
“[Beth] has been such a kind sister and always looked out for Thomas at school. She deserves this award for loving Thomas so much. She is the best big sister he could ever wish for.”Liz Hale, mother of Beth and Thomas
Despite the challenges he faces, Thomas, a pupil at All Saints’ Junior and Infant School, strives to live life to the full. His sister supports him in this aim by looking after him at school and being “understanding and accommodating” of his needs.
Their mother Liz Hale, 39, a business analyst, said: “I am just so proud of both of them. Thomas’ greatest strength is that he gets on with life in such a normal way that nobody would ever guess he had retinoblastoma and went through months and months of treatment.
“He never plays on his misfortune and is happy to talk about his condition and the treatment he went through with other people.
“It’s given him maturity beyond his years, although he’s capable of being just as mischievous as any other seven year old. Beth was only four years old when Thomas was diagnosed but she was always really understanding and accommodating.
“Thomas had to go to Birmingham for treatment which meant we were away a lot. She spent a lot of time staying with grandparents, her aunt and friends and she never complained about all the disruption to her routine. Quite the opposite.
“She has been such a kind sister and always looked out for Thomas at school. She deserves this award for loving Thomas so much. She is the best big sister he could ever wish for.”
The aim of the charity CHECT is to offer one-to-one support for families and individuals affected by retinoblastoma, also known as Rb, to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms to prompt earlier diagnosis, and help fund research into the disease.
Chief executive Joy Felgate said: “Thomas and Beth have been through so much over the last few years but they’ve shown remarkable levels of courage and resilience. Rb causes an immense amount of upset and disruption but they have absolutely refused to let things get on top of them. They are thoroughly deserving champions.”
Retinoblastoma is cancer of the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye, and causes the cells to grow rapidly and out of control.
In about 40 per cent of cases, retinoblastoma is caused by a faulty gene, which can affect both eyes. This may be inherited from the child’s parents or may develop randomly when the child is growing in the womb.
In the remaining 60 per cent of cases, there is no faulty gene and only one eye is affected.
Most cases of retinoblastoma are found early and are successfully treated before the cancer spreads outside the eyeball.