Chris Peacock is living proof of the advances that have been made in childhood cancer research in Newcastle over the past three decades.
He survived a Wilms’ tumour in the kidney when he was just four years-old in the late 1970s and has gone on to live life to the maximum, as a businessman, fundraiser, husband, father, skydiver, surfer, triathlete – the list goes on!
His remarkable story of recovery is one he especially likes to tell to parents he meets through his work as Chairman of the North of England Children’s Cancer Research charity as he knows how important it is demonstrate how much hope there is now for children with cancer.
“You don’t read many stories of childhood cancer survivors who have had the all clear for 35 years but I am a living case study,” says Chris, who lives in Tynemouth. “It’s comforting for parents of children battling through their illness to talk to me as I am living proof of successful treatment and I enjoy telling them how much I love life and how I make the most of every moment.
“I do think it has shaped who I am today. I feel I was given a second chance to experience the world and I squeeze everything I can out of my life.”
Lives changed for ever
Major advances have been made in children’s cancer since Chris’s diagnosis in 1974, along with improvements in public awareness, attitudes and funding for research. This progress is in part down to the tireless work of a group of parents – including Chris’s mum and dad – who helped establish the NECCR to fundraise for children’s cancer in response to their own experience of the disease. Some of the parents had lost children, while others were grateful that their sons and daughters had overcome cancer but what they all had in common was that they knew their lives were changed for ever by the disease.
The NECCR went on to raise a staggering £20 million for research in Newcastle, helping to establish Newcastle University’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research and cementing its reputation as a leading centre for research into children’s cancer. Almost £7 million of this total was raised by the Children’s Cancer Run which was started at Kings School in Tynemouth, when Chris was a pupil, and of which he is now Chairman.
Now the charity has embarked on a new chapter in its vital work, as a partner in the Future Fund along with Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospital’s Great North Children’s Hospital. The campaign aims to create the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, a state-of-the-art resource where researchers and clinicians can advance their work to develop new treatments with fewer side effects.
Chris, who is Managing Director at family firm Peacock’s Medical Group, said: “It’s impossible to compare the way we think about children’s cancer now to back when I was diagnosed but it is important not to fool ourselves into thinking there isn’t still a long road ahead.
“In the 1970s children’s cancer wasn’t talked about, it was almost a taboo subject. My mother had to be quite persistent with the doctors at the time because cancer was such a rarity. There wasn’t a lot funding directed at children’s cancer research, there weren’t very many professors specialising in it and it was treated as a sideline of adult cancer.
“Thankfully we now know that this isn’t the right approach because childhood cancers need to be treated very differently. At the time eight in ten children with cancer didn’t survive and it’s incredible to think that survival rates have now been completely reversed with eight in ten children surviving.”
Three decades of improvements
Chris’s memory of his cancer is hazy now but some experiences remain crystal clear and he is relieved today’s children battling cancer are benefiting from 35 years of improvements in facilities, treatments and attitudes. “I was very young but I do distinctly remember being very frightened,” he says. “It was an adult facility and children weren’t catered for the way they are now. When I was receiving treatment I was locked in a room with a machine over the top of me and lots of people were looking in at me through a glass window.
“I have memories of children not coming back from treatments. It was very common to make friends and then find out they had died. There was a lot of sorrow in that place.”
Last week Chris handed over £500,000 to the Future Fund on behalf of the NECCR and reiterated the charity’s wholehearted support for the campaign.
Chris said: “This is an incredible opportunity to create a world-class children’s cancer research facility to tackle the long-term effects of cancer treatments and reduce the burden on childhood survivors. It will benefit society as a whole because the work doesn’t just take place in a lab. Researchers and clinicians will be working with live case studies who will be among the first to benefit from their expertise.
“We are once again appealing to the public to dig deep to help us achieve something incredible – this will have local, national and global impact. The people of the North East people will have access to the best facilities, not only in the UK but in the world, and the progress made in Newcastle will be felt on an international level.”
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