Jack's brave fight

WHEN cruel cancer chooses to strike, it can be ruthless with its victims. Being a healthy, happy and loved little boy made no difference to Jack Gooding Harding.

WHEN cruel cancer chooses to strike, it can be ruthless with its victims. Being a healthy, happy and loved little boy made no difference to Jack Gooding Harding. Today his life hangs in the balance.

Reporter HAZEL BYFORD heard about his brave battle with the disease - which was only diagnosed after his parents refused to believe it was mumps or swollen glands.

SITTING on the sofa in five-year-old Jack Gooding Harding's living room, is a cuddly teddy bear.

It has got white fluffy fur, a big cute brown nose and wears a pink and purple chequered bow tie.

He looks much like any other teddy bear belonging to any other five-year-old - except this bear also wears Hickman line chemotherapy tubes.

Jack was given the toy by his mum and dad Beckie Harding and Gary Gooding, after they told him he wasn't very well and would need some special medicine.

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The truth is little Jack has cancer and his parents have no idea if the special medicine - chemotherapy treatment - is going to help. The teddy is simply a way of Miss Harding and Mr Gooding trying to help their son come to terms with what he is going through, by giving him a friend who is going through the same thing.

Jack, of Pinecroft Road, Ipswich, was diagnosed as having cancer in November last year. He has Rhabdomyosarcoma - a rare and aggressive form of the disease which develops from cells in the body's soft tissues.

The cancer was discovered after Miss Harding spotted a lump on Jack's neck. Unfortunately, by the time doctors found out it was cancer, it had already reached stage four - having spread through his lymphatic system from the first lump in neck to the other side of his neck and the lymphatic gland in his chest.

The young family now face weekly chemotherapy treatment at Ipswich Hospital and more intense treatment once every three weeks at Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital is shrinking the biggest tumour, and possibly fighting the others. But Jack's young and fragile body is already struggling to cope.

Miss Harding said: “The treatment at Addenbrooke's is particularly hard on him. He gets tired, he can't even walk that far, and he gets sick for about a week afterwards.

“It's difficult seeing him ill but then it's worse because he gets grumpy.

“Before we go he goes quiet as he knows what's coming and then he sort of turns against us.

“It's heartbreaking as he won't talk or smile at us in the waiting rooms.

“Sometimes he misbehaves and won't do as we ask. One night we spent three-and-a-half hours trying to get him to take painkillers. I just wish he could understand that everything we are doing is to help him.

“From the moment we open our eyes to when you go to sleep at night, this is always on our mind.

“Even during the night you think about it. He's sleeping in our room at the moment and sometimes I wake up and look at him sleeping, peacefully and think about all what he's still got to face.

“Then you wake up in the morning and you haven't got time to have thoughts like that. You just have to get on with it.”

Miss Harding, 26, gave up her job at Ipswich's Whitehouse Asda store to care for Jack full time. Mr

Gooding, 32, is a partner in a business which handles loading and unloading contracts and it's through his job he came across 300 white teddy bears - one was given to Jack and the others donated to other ill children at Ipswich and Addenbrooke's hospitals.

Mr Gooding said: “We've never really sat down and told him he's got cancer as we don't think he would understand.

“We've told him he's ill and we thought the easiest way of explaining it was saying about the lump, because he could see it was there.

“We said he has to have a medicine to make the lump go away.

“When we first found out we just wanted to wrap him in cotton wool. We heard the word cancer and immediately thought of death. For a while it was a case of saying 'yes' to everything he wanted but now we think normality and security are maybe the easiest way to get him through the treatment.

“Half of me still wants to give him everything, in case it's his last chance, but the other half is thinking about if he gets better. There are no rules to follow and at times we feel out of our depth.”

Jack's lump was found in October but when Miss Harding took him to Deben Road Surgery the following day she was told it was most likely to be mumps. She asked for a second opinion and was this time told swollen glands but the couple's parental intuition was strong and as they were still worried, they took Jack to hospital.

A biopsy was taken and results on November 30 confirmed cancer. It turned out the original lump in Jack's neck was so big it was pushing his tonsils to one side, reducing the size of his throat by half. It was too big and close to too many nerves to cut out.

Miss Harding said: “We've not prepared for the worst, or the best come to think of it.

“We will just take each day as it comes. We know he could survive and we know maybe he won't.

“We can't think about how much time he's got left. What we can think is that he's got a tumour, it's shrinking but that he's got other lumps and it may have even spread again. That's all we can think as that's the reality.

“We have a child with cancer who is being treated and others have a child who is terminally ill. There are people worse off.

“At the times we do get upset, it's just important we don't let him see it.”

Jack, a pupil at Whitehouse Infants School, went back to school last month as the family try and install some normality into their life.

He also seeks relief, like any other youngster, playing on his games consoles and playing with Doofus, the family's black Labrador.

And this month a special visit to Ipswich Fire Station, Colchester Road, was arranged for the family as Jack has a love of fire engines.

Depending on the outcome of his chemotherapy, Jack could start radiotherapy treatment in the next couple of months. Using radiotherapy makes Rhabdomyosarcoma less likely to return but it will make Jack ill, possibly making it difficult for him to speak and swallow.

Before then, Miss Harding and Mr Gooding, who cancelled their February wedding after the diagnosis, are hoping to take him on a holiday to Disneyland in Paris.

Mr Gooding said: “Before all this Jack was really active and confident.

“Being pulled and prodded has knocked him, and now sometimes it's hard to get him to leave the house.

“He's always been really clingy to Beckie and now he is even more so. He hasn't rejected me but he won't let me take him to bed or bath him. I want to help, for his sake and to take the pressure off Beckie, but he won't let me, and that's frustrating.

“It's all still sinking in really. It's turned our life around and when I look at what he's been through, I don't think most adults would handle it.”

N Sarcomas are rare types of cancer that develop in the supporting structures of the body, such as bone, muscle or cartilage. There are two main types - soft tissue and bone.

N Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue sarcoma . The tumours develop from muscle or fibrous tissue and can grow in any part of the body. The most common areas of the body to be affected are around the head and neck, the bladder or the testes.

N Fewer than 60 children are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the UK each year.

N Most children with the disease are younger than ten years old. It is more common in boys than girls.

N The cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is unknown. Research is on-going.

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