Legacy of beloved Sophie Fairall from Stubbington to live on as mum Charlotte and MP Caroline Dinenage bring 'momentus' childhood cancer debate to parliament

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WHEN nine-year-old Sophie Fairall from Stubbington first experienced stomach pains in 2020, her mum Charlotte would ‘never have imagined’ she had cancer.

Over the next few months the family went ‘back and forth’ to the GP surgery without a successful diagnosis until Charlotte decided ‘enough was enough’ when Sophie started experiencing bleeding, and took her to A&E.

It was there that medics felt a lump on her stomach that turned out to be a tumour, caused by rhabdomyosarcoma – a type of cancer that forms in soft tissue.

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Although Sophie, who was a Crofton Anne Dale Junior School pupil, underwent surgery to remove most of the tumour in September, followed by nine rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiotherapy, she died aged 10 at her home surrounded by family almost exactly a year later.

Sophie Fairall who died of cancer in 2021Sophie Fairall who died of cancer in 2021
Sophie Fairall who died of cancer in 2021

In her last months brave Sophie made it her mission to raise as much money as possible for Alice's Arc Charity, which is dedicated to funding research into finding a cure and less harsh treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma – collecting an astounding £53,600.

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Heartbreak as brave Sophie Fairall, 10, loses cancer battle and dies surrounded ...

Now her legacy is set to be cemented in the history books as Charlotte, along with their MP Caroline Dinenage, have secured the first-ever parliamentary debate on the topic of childhood cancer to be heard in the House of Commons next week after they managed to get the backing of 18 MPs.

The pair are calling for a raft of new measures that if implemented would change how doctors are trained to spot and treat cancer among children, and create a national campaign to help parents spot the signs of cancer. They are also asking for more funding to be spent on research into childhood cancers.

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Sophie FairallSophie Fairall
Sophie Fairall

Charlotte, 41, told The News: ‘I think Sophie would be really proud of what is happening.

‘Absolutely this will save the lives of other children in the future. We might have lost Sophie but we want to do everything we can to ensure this doesn’t happen to other families.’

Speaking about their demands, Charlotte said: ‘The earlier you spot cancer the greater chance there is of survival – we all know that.

‘Sadly Sophie’s wasn’t caught soon enough.

MP Caroline DinenageMP Caroline Dinenage
MP Caroline Dinenage

‘We want there to be training for all GPs and other healthcare professionals specifically to spot the signs of cancer in children. At the moment, once a doctor is qualified they never undergo any more training in it.

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‘There’s also the issue of how cancer is treated within children. They are subjected to the same types of treatments as adults, which have lasting effects.

‘For children who survive cancer there’s a 60 to 80 per cent chance they will have health problems for the rest of their lives caused by the treatment – which isn’t really a cure.

Sophie with her dad Gareth, mum Charlotte and sisters Lucy and AmeliaSophie with her dad Gareth, mum Charlotte and sisters Lucy and Amelia
Sophie with her dad Gareth, mum Charlotte and sisters Lucy and Amelia

‘I remember Sophie telling me how awful chemotherapy was and she said: “There has to be something better”.’

In the UK, one in every 450 children under the age of 15 develops a cancer.

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Charlotte added: ‘We’re told all the time that it’s “rare” for children to get cancer.

‘But one in 450 is not rare. Maybe if parents knew it wasn’t as rare as they’re told, they would be more likely to spot symptoms.’

Although the debate had been scheduled to take place today (April 21) it has been postponed until the afternoon of Tuesday, April 26 in favour of the vote on partygate.

For Ms Dinenage it is ‘essential’ the debate is heard.

Sophie (left) with her sisters Lucy and AmeliaSophie (left) with her sisters Lucy and Amelia
Sophie (left) with her sisters Lucy and Amelia

‘We have been working to bring this to parliament for the last 18 months,’ she said.

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‘It feels like we’re on the edge of something momentous but we need the support of everyone we can get to make real change that could save so many lives.

‘Childhood cancer is often described as rare, however it’s the biggest killer of children in the UK.

‘It’s incredible that there’s never been a debate in the chamber of the House of Commons on improving childhood cancer outcomes - every constituency in the country will have been touched by this tragedy.’

Their plight is supported by Cancer Research UK.

Elisa Mitchell, the charity’s spokeswoman for Hampshire, added: ‘Every year, around 4,200 children and young people under the aged of 25 are diagnosed with cancer in the UK.

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‘Overall survival for children and young people’s cancers has improved significantly since the 1970s, when just over a third of youngsters diagnosed in the UK survived for 10 years or more. Today, more than eight in 10 will survive for at least 10 years.

‘However, as Sophie Fairall’s story sadly illustrates, much more needs to be done. Cancer Research UK welcomes the parliamentary debate brought by Dame Caroline Dinenage MP and hopes that it will help shine a spotlight the barriers that are holding back progress.

‘There are 88 different types of cancer that can affect children and young people. This includes cancers like leukaemias and lymphomas that are more common in this age group, but there are also around 30 very rare cancer types that affect fewer than 10 children and young people in the UK each year.

‘For a variety of complex reasons, there are too few researchers in this specialist field and research communities are fragmented. Lack of industry support also limits progress.’

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To find out more or provide support visit sophieslegacy.co.uk.

Charlotte is also asking residents to write to their MPs calling on them to take part in the debate on Tuesday.

Childhood cancer in numbers

- one in every 450 children under 15 develops a cancer in the UK every year

- 1,600 children in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year

- 250 cancer deaths in children in the UK each year

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- 240 new cases of cancer in children each year in the south east

- 88 different types of cancer that can affect children and young people

- 55 children in the UK are diagnosed with the rhabdomyosarcoma – the same cancer Sophie had – every year

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