Christmas in the Eames house will be a joyous affair – a world away from the ‘sheer hell’ the family faced two years ago.
In December 2014, little Tommy Eames was desperately ill with a brain tumour and his parents were warned to expect the worst.
But now he is clear of cancer, back at Walberton and Binsted Primary School part-time and looking forward to Christmas.
Throughout his treatment, ten-year-old Tommy, from Fontwell, was often sick, in pain, exhausted, unable to eat, fragile and incredibly weak.
He had to learn to walk, use the right side of his body, communicate and talk again.
His courage in dealing with it all has earned him a Kids & Teens Star Award for bravery from Cancer Research UK, in partnership with TK Maxx.
Lynn Daly, Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens spokesperson for Sussex, said: “Tommy has been through a traumatic experience but like a true star, he has come out shining and his family couldn’t be more proud of him.
“Cancer has a devastating impact on children, forcing them to show incredible bravery beyond their years. Treatment can last months or even years, meaning long stays in hospital away from siblings and friends.
“It’s a privilege to be able to recognise the courage of youngsters like Tommy.
“We hope to acknowledge the bravery of more children and encourage family and friends to nominate them now.”
Tommy has fought his way back to health but with some limitations. He is partially sighted and struggles with short-term memory loss, cognitive and processing functions.
But on holiday this year, he was able to join siblings Ben and Sophie swimming with dolphins and playing volleyball.
Mum Annabel said: “He doesn’t moan or complain. He has worked so hard and is an inspiration to everyone who knows or meets him.
“He is able to cycle and passed his cycling proficiency test, which we are incredibly proud of.
“He probably spends too much time on the X-Box but we let him off as it is good for his motor skills. And although he hasn’t been able to go back to being a goalie – yet – he is a huge Chelsea fan and loves to watch football.
“And, of course, his cheeky sense of humour is still intact.”
Every child nominated for the Kids & Teens Star Awards receives the accolade, which is backed by a host of celebrities, including Olympic medallist Greg Rutherford and professional dancers Kevin and Karen Clifton.
There is no judging panel because Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx believe that every child who faces cancer is extra special.
Visit cruk.org/kidsandteens for more details.
In December 2014, Tommy Eames, was diagnosed with a brain tumour and the family’s world fell apart.
He is the middle of three children and as he lay desperately ill, his parents, Annabel and Nick, were told to prepare for the worst.
Annabel said: “We feel we went to hell and back during those very dark days. Now we treasure every moment we have together as a family. All we want for Christmas is to be together.”
Tommy had begun to complain of headaches that summer and later suffered back pain. Doctors initially thought it was migraine.
But in December, while playing in goal for Barnham Trojans, Tommy was taken ill and had to pull out of the match. A week later, he suffered a seizure and was rushed to hospital.
Then doctors broke the devastating news that Tommy had a malignant sPNET brain tumour. He was given an emergency transfer to Southampton General Hospital but was too unstable to be operated on that evening.
“We just had to wait to see if he made it through the night. It was such a long and scary night,” said Annabel.
The next morning, surgeons began a 16-hour operation to remove the tumour. Then came another two-day wait to see if he would come round and how the surgery would affect him.
“We were terrified. We couldn’t see any way out of it,” said Annabel.
“But we knew Tommy was a stubborn little boy so we had to be totally focussed. We couldn’t fall apart.”
When Tommy came round, although he could not speak, he was able to communicate.
“Once he opened his eyes I could see he was still there. It was sheer elation! It was just the tiniest smile or wink or squeeze of the hand but we knew he could understand us.”
Tommy’s brother and sister, Ben, now 14, and Sophie, now seven, came to see him on the neurological ward but were frightened and upset.
“That was heartbreaking to see,” said Annabel.
Most of Tommy’s festive season was spent hooked up to drugs and machines but on Christmas Day, he was allowed home for a few hours.
Annabel said: “It was the best feeling in the world to turn up and surprise everyone, and magical for Tommy just to be able to sit by the Christmas tree at home. But it was also terrifying and emotional to be without any nursing care.”
Tommy had a second surgery in early January then needed 31 daily sessions of head and spinal radiotherapy which meant being pinned to a bed beneath a tight-fitting plastic mask and left alone for treatment.
“It was absolutely awful, the hardest part of the treatment,” said Annabel. “Day one was terrible but then we had another 30 to go. He would scream, tears would run down his face and there were times we had to pin him down.
“We tried everything – playlists, a lucky dip of 31 presents, stick-on tattoos. But to watch him being so upset day after day was the worst thing ever, totally heart-breaking.”
Following the radiotherapy, Tommy started high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell re-infusion and spent four months in isolation, apart from occasional visits home between cycles, and even then he had to be ‘wrapped in cotton wool’.
“It was a long, lonely, scary journey,” said Annabel. “It was also incredibly hard to be separated from Ben and Sophie for such long periods.”
The family’s way of coping with the ‘horrendous trauma’ they have been through is to recognise and cling to the positives.
“We always were a close family but now we are stronger,” said Annabel. “We look at life differently and our priorities have changed. We have made new and life-long friends.
“We had phenomenal care from the doctors and nurses at Southampton General and St Richard’s hospitals, and the Snowdrop nurses. We’re so grateful to these teams. Along with their care, prayers from family and friends all over the world, and Tommy’s sheer determination – we have him here today.
“You constantly live in fear of it coming back – every headache sends you into panic mode. But you can’t give into it or it would eat you alive.
“We don’t look too far into the future. We treasure every day. We enjoy him, enjoy being at home, enjoy being alive.”
Tommy is now in remission, off medication and returns to hospital for three-monthly check-ups and six-monthly MRI scans.
His next big step will be into senior school. But for now, the family is occupied with the little things in life – like watching Tommy enjoy a chocolate advent calendar, something he has missed out on for the last couple of years.
Annabel added: “Words fail me as to why my son had to go through this but I am beaming with happiness and pride that I am his mummy.”
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