by Laura Davis, managing editor
Reece Puddington lives in Whitstable, Kent, England with his parents and three siblings. He loves to play Call of Duty, Assasins’ Creed, Uncharted, and Lego games. He’s a fan of Marvel and DC comics, and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Reece has just celebrated his 11th birthday, and he’s just written his bucket list. Reece suffers from neuroblastoma and his latest relapse has left him bed-ridden.
In April 2008, Reece was five years old and kept complaining to his parents, Paul and Kay, that his back and hip hurt. When Kay took him to the doctor, the doctor suspected a kidney infection, but took the precaution of ordering some tests at the local hospital. They kept him overnight for observation, but since tests didn’t reveal anything serious, they sent Reece home, saying he probably had a virus.
A few weeks later, his back pain had increased, so Kay returned to the doctor with Reece, and they were sent immediately back to the hospital for more in-depth testing. The ultrasound they ran revealed a tumor on one of his adrenal glands, and they diagnosed it as cancer.
I asked Kay about that day. “When you are told the news you are of course devastated,” she explains. “You feel like somebody has ripped out your heart and stomach. After about four days, you start to return to normal, and living with the illness almost becomes normality. There is a part of you that wonders what you did to deserve it.”
During the following week, Reece was transferred twice between hospitals and fitted with a Hickman line (a specific kind of central line) in preparation for his first round of chemotherapy. It’s easy to imagine a five-year-old being terrified at all of this, but Reece took it in stride; he even named the line his “Wigglies.” They also gave him an NG tube for supplemental feeding, since he’d already begun to lose weight. Additional testing revealed that the cancer had spread to Reece’s bone marrow, sternum, pelvis, and right femur. The official diagnosis: Stage 4 Neuroblastoma.
Kay adds, “They gave him a 40% chance of living ‘til end of treatment, and they told us he had an 80% chance of relapsing.”
Reece has, in fact, survived several rounds of chemo, a compromised immune system, sepsis, bone marrow biopsies, blood transfusions, and additional treatments. Although he’s been through a lot of ups and downs, sometimes spending weeks at a time back in the hospital, he’s had, until very recently, a surprising number of opportunities to just be a kid. His family’s Facebook pages are filled with photos of him visiting the local firehouse, playing outside, mugging for the camera, and riding his toy quad and his bike. On one special outing when he was nine, Reece and Paul visited Romans International.
Paul wrote, “Can’t believe my 9 year old son just sat in 6 million pounds worth of cars! Thank you to Romans International for letting my son sit in the most amazing and most expensive cars ever.” Among Reece’s premium seating were the coveted Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari Enzo!
Does the rest of the family share Reece’s love for video games, comics, and other geekery? Kay says, “Paul isn’t really a fan of video games other than Facebook games; he’s very much into Star Trek and quite likes Stargate: SG1 and Babylon 5. Ryan tends to join in and play the same video games with Reece.”
I asked Kay how Reece’s brother Ryan (19), and sisters Jamie (16) and Nikki (13) were coping with Reece’s illness. She said, “They cope quite well, all in all, especially as they have had nearly 6 years to get used to it all. Nikki struggles the most out of the three. She wasn’t old enough to really understand the first time round. They are a great support to Reece and fully involve themselves with his treatment, care, and fundraising.”
Paul and Kay tried shortly after his diagnosis to get Reece an antibody treatment cocktail, which was developed in the U.S. The 3-drug cocktail was the most promising treatment available at the time, but in the U.K., only two of the drugs were available: a combination which had shown poor results in previous clinical trials. “The other option,” Kay explains, “was to look at treatment in America and Germany, which, as you know, would not be free to us.” Going abroad for treatment would have cost the family approximately £500,000.
In order to expand Reece’s access new treatment options, the family set up a fundraising appeal. Kay explains, “The appeal was initially set up to cover the cost of supplements and therapies that can be beneficial with his illness but are not recognised as standard treatments, therefore they are not funded and the costs were then our responsibility.”
The National Health Service’s approved course of treatment for neuroblastoma consists largely of chemotherapy, and Reece has had at least 6 rounds. After a relapse in September of 2012 (scans discovered a tumor on Reece’s skull and spots on other bones), he needed a particularly aggressive form of chemo. Paul and Kay drove Reece 130 miles round-trip each day for five days of the treatment, which made him violently sick. On day two of this course, Paul wrote that Reece had been up sick all night, “but after a 6-hour superhero film marathon, he’s finally not gagging any more … We just wish now the Hulk could come along and smash puny cancer!”
The family opted to try some nutritional and natural therapies, in addition to the chemo. Then, in early 2013, Reece enrolled in a trial for the drug Ridaforolimus. Although Reece was the longest-serving neuroblastoma patient in the trial and the drug did provide him 10 more months of quality life, he learned just before Christmas that he has relapsed. His tests show disease progression in his bone marrow and a new tumor, this one on his liver.
Earlier in January 2014, Reece had been offered spots in two different drug trials. I asked Kay whether these were still options for him. “The likelihood is that Reece is probably not going to be put through any more treatment but this decision hasn’t been officially discussed with the hospital and I guess never say never. Reece is full of surprises and has never done what’s predicted with this illness.”
At the end of January, Reece wrote, “I’d thought about doing a bucket list ever since I relapsed but as I had spent the best part of it thriving and shifting disease, it isn’t something I wanted to rush. Given my recent decline in health, I feel now is the time and I’d like to share it with you all. Some things will be possible and some things will remain a dream, but they will be MY wishes.”
His list included several items which were donated almost immediately: an Alienware laptop; an Xbox; breakfast from Whetherspoons “with my favorite people,” which the restaurant donated and had delivered; A blue PS4 controller; and a Beats Pill speaker (Reece adds, “Let’s hope my neighbours like Imagine Dragons.”). He also said he’d like to see Kay learn to drive, and a local driving instructor donated his time to teach her.
Reece’s latest post says:
“The following wishes are the only ones that remain outstanding. Some things will be possible and some will remain a dream, but they will be MY wishes:
- A bedroom of my own.
- To see the Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug movie.
- A holiday to Sun City in South Africa (I’ve always wanted to go since seeing the destination on Worlds Strongest Man)
- Meet Johnny Depp dressed in character as Captain Jack Sparrow (my mum’s trying to do this as a surprise as they are my favourite movies)”
Johnny Depp is known for his charity work, especially where children are concerned, so we hope it will be possible for him to help Reece tick another item off his bucket list!
I asked Kay whether she had any words of encouragement for other families with seriously ill children. “Normality goes a long way, “ she said. “It deflects attention away from the negative aspects of the illness and treatment and provides routine and structure. Also quality time as a family where possible and the ability to laugh in a stressful situation. Also there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
If you’d like to contribute to Reece’s fundraising appeal, please use Paypal, and use the “Family and Friends” option to send to firstname.lastname@example.org.