His comments came as he launched the Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx, which celebrate the courage of children who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Baby Valentino was just six-weeks-old, when an MRI scan revealed he had stage-four neuroblastoma – a rare cancer of nerve cells – which had spread around his body. It usually affects under-fives.
The youngster was referred to Addenbrooke’s straight away where he underwent two years of intense treatment, including chemotherapy, with the family frequently travelling back and forth from their home around an hour away.
“We were in bits. Almost four years on, things will come to me and I will have a flashback even now. But we have been fortunate and we thank God we live in the UK with the amazing NHS. They were phenomenal.
“Addenbrooke’s is a place where they give outstanding care. They looked after Valentino so well.”
Michelle added: “When you go to a children’s oncology ward you are in the place that no parent wants to be in. I would chat to other mums there who were going through this too. I think we were blessed in one sense that Valentino was a baby who was too little to understand what was happening.”
That’s why they have teamed up with Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People to call for nominations from across Cambridgeshire for its annual Star Awards.
The scheme is open to all under-18s who have been diagnosed with cancer in the last five years. There is no judging panel and everyone nominated receives a trophy and t-shirt, as well as a certificate signed by celebrities and a £50 TK Maxx voucher.
A cancer diagnosis is heart-breaking at any age, but it can be particularly difficult for a child or young person and their families, especially when many of those who survive may experience serious long-term side effects from their treatment.
So having seen first-hand what youngsters with cancer endure, Jean-Christophe and Michelle want to help show them how special they are.
The Michelin-starred chef said: “To have something like the Star Awards to recognise the children and their courage when they go through so much – it is fantastic and it all helps with that boost you need as a family. Now we want to help spread the word, so that across Cambridgeshire as many children affected by cancer as possible have the opportunity to be nominated and can receive the acknowledgement they so richly deserve.”
Jean-Christophe held a special festive cook along with a small group of children who are undergoing or have recently completed treatment, as he launches the annual awards which celebrate the courage and bravery of children with cancer. Among them was seven-year-old Edith Coombes from Hedge End, Hampshire, who has recently completed 26 months of gruelling treatment for leukaemia.
Around 170 children are diagnosed with cancer in the East of England each year.
Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults – from the types of cancer, to the impact of treatment - so it requires different, dedicated research that Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People helps to support in Cambridge.
Addenbrooke’s is one of the centres across the UK taking part in ground-breaking clinical trials coordinated by the charity’s Children’s Cancer Trials Team, making innovative new treatments available to children with cancer in the city and across the region.
Cancer Research UK is also currently funding work at the University of Cambridge led by Professor Anna Philpott to find out what happens deep inside the DNA of nerve cells to make them become cancerous and develop into neuroblastoma. The end goal is to work out exactly which signals are driving the cancer and discover how to switch them off, to help save the lives of more children with this type of cancer like Valentino.
Dr Amos Burke, Specialty Lead for the children’s cancer service at Addenbrooke’s, and also a member of the Paediatric Cancer Programme, who was one of the consultants who treated Valentino, said: “It is vital that research continues to look at ways to improve survival and outcomes for all children with cancer. Many cancers in children such as neuroblastoma people do not occur in adults, so specific research such as the work led by Prof Philpott is needed.
On the research such as this taking place in Cambridge, Michelle said: “In the moments when we got to leave the hospital and walk outside you can feel all around you there is this amazing research community, with people working so hard to create better treatments for children with cancer. That really helps to give families like ours hope for the future.”
The Star Awards are run in partnership with TK Maxx, the biggest corporate supporter of Cancer Research UK’s work into children’s and young people’s cancers. Since 2004, the retailer has raised over £40m for the charity. Over £37m of this total has supported research to help ensure more children and young people survive cancer with a good quality of life.
To nominate a Star visit cruk.org/starawards.