Town comes together to help both brothers who have cancer

Leo and Oliver Redfearn.
Leo and Oliver Redfearn.

When Keri and Shaun Redfearn asked medical staff if both of their young sons could have cancer at the same time, they were told it wouldn’t happen.

But just months after Leo, now 11, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, doctors confirmed his younger brother Oliver, six, was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The Redfearn family’s lives were turned upside down in October when Leo began treatment for the very rare form of childhood cancer. His survival chances were slim, and they feared he would not survive.

The family did everything they could to ease Leo’s pain during his treatment. Shaun and Oliver shaved their heads to help him process the loss of his hair, and his school friends came to visit him in hospital.

Keri and Shaun were warned that the NHS had withdrawn funding for a drug that Leo would need at the end of his treatment. If they wanted their son to have access to the potentially life-saving medication, they would need to foot the £200,000 bill themselves.

The Redfearns were in turmoil, and felt like things could not get any worse.

The Redfearn family.

The Redfearn family.

But then, just two months into Leo’s treatment, Oliver began complaining of pains.

Keri feared the worst, but the doctors assured her that the chances of both her sons suffering from cancer at once were slim to none.

She said: “When Oliver started to get poorly and I mentioned it to the consultant and nurse, they said it wouldn’t happen.

“When he was diagnosed, they came and apologised.”

Oliver and Leo had entirely different types of cancer.

For the second time in four months, the Redfearns’ world was shaken.

The boys spent five weeks together in isolation, unable to leave after the aggressive treatments damaged their immune systems.

Following a heart attack the previous year, Shaun was deemed unsafe to drive. He lost his driving licence and was admitted to the hospital for surgery, just one floor up from his sons.

Keri was forced to split her time between her family members. She would sometimes visit the hospital three times in a day as she tried to balance visits with caring for the couple’s younger daughter, five-year-old Isobel.

But while the family struggled on, their friends had been busy, organising dozens of fundraising events, hosting race nights, raffles, fundays and auctions and even running marathons in the name of the Redfearns.

Family friend Becky Cooper said: “We didn’t realise how much support we’d have. It seems like all of Castleford came together.”

In just three months, the fundraising campaign raised more than £25,000.

Eventually, Shaun was discharged, and the boys returned home, though they were still undergoing treatment and making frequent hospital trips.

Keri said: “I have to be strong. The hardest part is if we have an emergency and I have to drive them to the hospital and then come back and get Isobel to school.

“I don’t know how, but we’ve managed.”

And then, in July, a glimmer of hope.

After weeks of campaigning by charities and parents, the previous ruling was reversed and NHS funding for Leo’s end-of-treatment medication was resumed.

Keri and Shaun were able to focus on their children again, instead of worrying about the future.

Keri says the money they have raised so far will likely be put aside in the event of a relapse, or donated to childhood cancer charities.

She said: “To be honest at the present time, I haven’t thought about that. Now I’ve been able to relax and not worry about fundraising, I have put my sole focus into the family.”

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Childhood cancer rates:

The UK has one of the lowest childhood cancer rates in Europe, with around 1,600 new diagnoses each year.

The chances of both brothers being diagnosed at the same time were almost none.

Because so few children are diagnosed, treatment can be more costly than it is for adults. Keri believes this is why Leo’s treatment was retracted earlier this year.

Charity Solving Kids’ Cancer called the decision “immoral” and led the widespread campaign for the medication to be reapproved.

The charity, who support families of children with neuroblastoma, praised the decision to reinstate funding.

Chief executive Stephen Richards said: “We are absolutely delighted that the right decision has been made to benefit the lives of children with neuroblastoma.

“Families now know their very sick child will be able to have the best treatment that gives the greatest chance of long-term survival here in the UK.”