A Penarth mum who was told she had incurable cancer in October 2018 has gone into remission during lockdown, and has paid tribute to her 10-year-old son and his pals who have raised £1500 for cancer research after being inspired by her.

Clare Hollinshead – mum to Bella, 12, Zachary, 10, and Florence, eight, was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in October 2017.

“I had a hysterectomy and then began chemotherapy to ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back, but I was told that the cancer had grown in the June, and in October 2018 I was told I might not have until Christmas,” she recalled.

“The worst part, and definitely the hardest part of my life, was having to tell the kids. I remember my then five-year-old wailing. I was really worried she wouldn’t remember me.

“It’s so difficult to explain it to children and there isn’t much advice out there on how to deal with it.

Penarth Times: ClareClare

“It was crushing. But for a while I just didn’t believe what was happening to me.”

Clare describes how she “didn’t want to lose hope so quickly”, and paid to see a private cancer expert in London for a second opinion.

“I knew about immunotherapy drugs and had heard how they had worked wonders for people in my position. They told me the drugs would be a risk and might not work, but we decided we had nothing to lose.

“It does make me feel very sad and guilty that people in my position can’t get the treatment I had. It should be more widely available."

Her treatment started in the October of that year, and now – two years later – she has entered remission with no evidence of cancer in her body. A brain tumour she suffered with has also disappeared.

She says it is “something of a miracle given the prognosis I was facing”.

Penarth Times: Holly Watson and Zachary Hollinshead, Race for LifeHolly Watson and Zachary Hollinshead, Race for Life

Immunotherapy drugs are still given to Clare every three weeks via infusion, and she is nearing the end of her treatment.

She says she wants her story to show the vital impact of cancer research work, and the importance of trying to make cancer treatment available on the NHS.

“If I wasn’t able to go private I’d have died,” she said. “It’s so important this is available to everyone.

“I realised within weeks that the treatment was working when a cough I had from the cancer on my lungs cleared up.

“Immunotherapy drugs are relatively new and exciting, and have transformed some areas of cancer treatment – yet research is still vital to improve and change the outcomes for patients.”

Penarth Times: Zachary Hollinshead and Holly WatsonZachary Hollinshead and Holly Watson

On Saturday, September 26, Zachary joined friends Holly Watson, Valentina Heffer, Megan Calder, Lili Pearn, Matilda Coggins, Katie Watson, Isabella Heffer, Rosie Bialynicki-Birula and Mollie Hughes to run the Race for Life after being inspired by Clare.

Clare’s youngest Florence joined in too, carrying the water for the runners.

“They’re an inspiration,” Clare said. “Zachary is a little shy so I don’t think he’d have done this on his own. His friends wanted to do it when they heard the news and they asked Zachary if he’d do it with them.”

They raised £1500 for cancer research by running from Stanwell Road, along the Cliff Top, and back again.

Penarth Times: Zachary joined his pals for Race for LifeZachary joined his pals for Race for Life

They were encouraged along the way by various walkers and spectators who spotted the pink entourage approaching.

“It was a lovely day. They did struggle and there were a few tears, but they did it and I’m so proud of all of them,” Clare added.

“Please keep donating to cancer research. It makes a huge difference, as it has done for our family.”

If you would like to donate to Zachary and his pals, visit https://www.justgiving.com/team/Penarthraceforlife.

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