David Thomas has supported World Child Cancer since 2008 and we were delighted to have him attend our annual Spirit of Christmas event in December 2018. David’s son, Daniel, contracted a rare and devastating bone cancer when he was just 17 but lived life to the full for over five years after his diagnosis. Since his son's passing, David has gone on to publish a book; ‘Daniel, my Son,’ and kindly donated the profits to World Child Cancer. He has also completed several cycle rides to raise vital funds to support children in need of palliative care in the developing world.
David shared his story on how Daniel's cancer diagnosis impacted him and the rest of their family when delivering a speech at World Child Cancer's annual Christmas event. He explained how he had not thought about childhood cancer in the developing world until one evening back in 2007 when with Daniel on the teenage cancer ward at University College Hospital when he picked up a World Child Cancer leaflet. He was aware of malaria, water-borne diseases, and malnutrition, but even though children in poor countries get cancer too, he hadn’t thought about just how difficult it was for them to access treatment.
Reading the leaflet, he was immediately struck by the contrast between the quality of care available for children in developed compared to developing countries;
"There was state-of-the-art treatment and so much support available to Daniel, yet almost none of this available for children in developing countries. Daniel had wonderful facilities at UCH, with top-class professionals, and we were lucky to have the money to look abroad for possible additional treatment too. I spoke to an oncologist from Leeds who regularly volunteers in Africa and he told me that in the West, 98% of children who get a particular form of eye cancer are cured; in the developing world it is only 2%.”
During Daniel’s initial treatment, David decided to do a little bit to help. He asked family and friends to donate as he completed a challenging bike ride between some of the principal children’s cancer hospitals in England. He also completed an international cycle challenge in Malawi.
"It was an amazing country, but perhaps strange to relate to. The highlight for me was our visit to two paediatric cancer wards, in Lilongwe the capital, and Blantyre, the old colonial capital. Lilongwe lived up to our stereotypical image of third world hospitals, two to three children to a bed – and this wasn’t even the malaria season”.
“I was impressed by how much World Child Cancer is able to do with relatively little money. For a variety of reasons, cancer treatment costs are far less in the developing world. For example, World Child Cancer can access chemotherapy at a fraction of the cost. It supports families too, a really important aspect of cancer care – so many cannot afford the travel costs to hospital, or the time off work.”
David is passionate about is palliative care and he was shocked when he discovered that many children in poor countries live with terminal cancer with little or no form of pain relief.
“World Child Cancer has excellent projects in Bangladesh and elsewhere for palliative care, reaching so many children. It is not just pain relief – psychological support is so important too. It is not only about money – there are cultural factors at play, and some countries ban opiates because of fear of the illicit drug trade. But money is clearly key”.
He embodies the idea that hope is key during the whole process:
“World Child Cancer’s role, of course, is to provide treatment and other forms of help through the generosity of donors and volunteers. But what it really provides, I think, is hope. Hope of a cure, hope of as little pain as possible, the hope that comes from the opportunity to dream a possible future, the hope engendered by knowing that compassion crosses the oceans to help complete strangers. We all need hope in difficult times. It is the most precious gift we can bestow. We have the rare privilege of knowing that, as individuals, we have the ability, through World Child Cancer, a really excellent charity, to give hope to children who would otherwise have none. And to make a real difference to their lives."