A 15-year-old girl once stricken with a brain tumour is enjoying her childhood again – one of over a thousand patients treated by the UK’s first NHS proton beam therapy centre.

In the five years since The Christie Hospital’s High-energy Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) Centre opened in Manchester in late December 2018, over 1,250 gravely-ill cancer patients have been treated there.

Utilising high-energy protons it’s a form of radiotherapy but without X-rays and holds back from releasing its energy until it hits the tumour, so does less damage to surrounding tissue.

Proton beam therapy is only suitable for a small number of people with certain cancer types, such cases where the tumour is close to critical body parts like the brain or spinal cord.

And so to celebrate its fifth anniversary Eve Wilson, 15, of Portsmouth, has told the Daily Express how the new treatment stopped her benign, but dangerously growing, brain tumour – called craniopharyngioma – threatening her life.

Eve Wilson beaming outside The Christie Hospital

Eve Wilson knows she has a bright future ahead now after her treatment (Image: handout)

Eve told us: “I’ve never been looked after in a hospital as well as I was at The Christie. The staff made me feel comfortable and prepared, so I wasn’t scared before treatment.

“If I felt unwell, the nurses would take care of me, and I’d also never had a health play specialist to look after me before.

“It was nice always having friendly faces looking out for me and checking I was ok.

“They even let me switch my treatment times, so we could drive home for the last hour of my last day at primary school we did a 240-mile school run.”

Eve was aged 10 was diagnosed with rare craniopharyngioma, a non-cancerous brain tumour, in August 2019 after experiencing headaches, tiredness and problems with her vision.

Around 30 children a year will be diagnosed with craniopharyngioma in the UK and symptoms result either from the tumour blocking the flow of fluid surrounding the brain or from direct pressure and damage on the pituitary gland.

Effects of the growth can include loss of vision, bad headaches and hormone deficiencies leading to slow growth.

But in Eve’s even graver case, her tumour blocked the circulation of the fluid around her brain.

The Christie's Proton Beam Therapy suite

The Christie’s Proton Beam Therapy suite (Image: handout)

This build-up puts pressure on the head and is potentially life-threatening if left untreated. Her vision was also badly affected, and it became so bad that she could barely read an eye chart.

Eve was operated the day after her diagnosis but doctors could not remove the tumour due to its location but were able to drain it to relieve some of the pressure.

However, in spring 2020, a scan showed that a new tumour had grown in a different location. As a result, she was

referred to The Christie for 28 sessions of daily PBT.

Mother-of-two Penny Wilson explained: “When Eve was poorly, she just couldn’t be a normal kid.

“She couldn’t see properly, and she was so tired that she just kept on falling asleep all the time. When we were told it was a brain tumour, my whole world changed forever.

“It was especially scary when they told us she had a build-up of fluid in her brain and the implications of that. We got through surgery, and then it turned out that another tumour had grown in a different place.

“It was an unbelievably difficult time. No one ever wants to see their child unwell.”

The Christie's Proton Beam Therapy suite

The Christie’s Proton Beam Therapy suite (Image: handout)

She added: “When we were told Eve would be having proton beam therapy in Manchester, I was worried about taking her so far from home, so the fact that she was so comfortable at The Christie is a real credit to all the staff there.”

Eve’s treatment has been a success – her tumour has stopped growing – and she’s had to have no further treatment since she finished in August 2020.

Last November, she came back to The Christie for a check-up and to see some of her team. She had done some fundraising and brought in toys for other children who are going through treatment.

Eve said: “The doctor told us everything was still fine, and we talked a bit about my future after treatment.

“I love dancing and was worried that I might not be able to do it as much, but he was supportive and encouraged me to keep doing the things I enjoy.

“It was so great to see everyone – coming back was a really positive experience for me.”

Professor Ed Smith from The Christie Hospital

Professor Ed Smith from The Christie Hospital (Image: handout)

Tom Mowson, one of the radiographers who treated Eve, said: “I’m so glad to see Eve is doing so well. We try to make sure that all of our patients are as comfortable as possible while they’re with us.

“There’s a school at The Christie, lots of play spaces, and families have access to specialists who are there specifically to look after the children’s wellbeing while they’re there for treatment.”

While Professor Ed Smith, clinical director of proton beam therapy at The Christie, said: “This is a big milestone for us – five years and around 1,270 patients treated.

“In addition to the current routinely treated cases we also have a range of clinical trials open and the UK’s only dedicated PBT research room, helping us to develop what the future of treatment will look like as well.”

 

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