‘We’re not cotton wool parents’

Charlie Harris (6) with his mum Marie Harris (41) and sisters Millie Harris (3) and Sofie Harris (8). 

Picture: Sarah Standing (160652-5320)
Charlie Harris (6) with his mum Marie Harris (41) and sisters Millie Harris (3) and Sofie Harris (8). Picture: Sarah Standing (160652-5320)

Portsmouth university criminologist becomes chairman of The Security Institute

  • Charlie Harris fell ill with what was believed to be an infection
  • He was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia aged four
  • After two years of treatment he has two more years to go
  • He is raising money for other children with cancer
0
Have your say

Charlie Harris is no ordinary little boy.

As well as his passion for dinosaurs, the six-year-old loves helping other people.

I feel happy when I feel better and I feel sad when I go in hospital

Charlie Harris

He has been raising money for cancer charities by organising fundraising events – even though he is in the throes of battling the disease himself.

Two years ago, when Charlie was just four, he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

When doctors finally discovered what was wrong with him he was just days away from death.

It was his mum Marie’s persistence which saw him eventually diagnosed but he has a long way to go with treatment.

Marie and husband Rob have been astonished with the way Charlie has dealt with his illness – never complaining or moaning and always insisting on going to school if he possibly can.

And that’s down to Rob, who is in the Royal Navy, and Marie’s parenting ethos.

Marie, 41, says: ‘We always say we’re not cotton wool parents.

‘Of course we want to wrap them up and try and protect them.

‘But we’re a family which needs all the details to work out what we need to do to sort something out.

‘We don’t want things sugar-coated. We have always been honest with Charlie about his illness and I think that has really helped.’

The signs that something was wrong began to appear in May 2014 following a bout of chicken pox.

Marie says: ‘For all that month Charlie was poorly.

‘A lot of the symptoms were the same as a viral infection so it was quite difficult for the GP.

‘I took him quite a few times until it got to the point where I felt as if I was going crazy.

‘My mother’s instinct told me something was badly wrong.

‘He couldn’t walk, he had a high temperature, weight loss, he was vomiting and sleeping all the time.

‘I took him to A&E and refused to move until they told me what was wrong with him.’

Within hours it became clear to doctors that Charlie had leukaemia.

By the morning Marie and Rob had the confirmation.

Charlie had T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a rare form of cancer that affects 200 people a year.

It is a type of acute leukaemia, meaning it is aggressive and progresses quickly.

It affects the lymphoid-cell-producing stem cells, in paticular a type of white blood cell called T lymphocytes as opposed to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia which commonly affects B lymphocytes.

‘Luckily, I stuck to my guns,’ says Marie.

‘The specialist we saw said if we hadn’t taken him in then he might not have made it to the weekend.’

Charlie, of Matapan Road, Hilsea, immediately began chemotherapy.

The youngster has a severe needle phobia and his parents have battled to have him fitted with a central line to try and ease the unpleasantness of the constant injections.

He has nearly died on several occasions after contracting infections which has terrified his family, including elder sister Sophie and toddler sister Millie.

But he always has a smile on his face.

‘He is very stubborn,’ Marie says. ‘He doesn’t like to give up on things. He takes it in his stride.

‘I would love to wrap him up and keep him off school, so he’s not at risk, but I honestly believe he has got to be a six-year-old boy, just like all his friends, within reason.

‘If I stop him doing things he won’t be in good stead for his treatment.

‘We unfortunately have to make him do a lot of horrendous things with his treatment – like lumbar punctures – but we turn it around so he feels he is making the decisions.’

The family mantra is ‘Well children go to school’ so that Charlie sees it as a positive.

When I meet him he has had a long day in the classroom and his teacher has given him a teddy bear to cuddle and take home to make him feel better.

He says: ‘It (treatment) does make me feel very poorly.

‘Mummy gives me morphine so I can go to school which makes me feel a bit better.

‘I feel happy when I feel better and I feel sad when I go in hospital.’

The worst thing for Charlie is that, after two years of chemotherapy, he still has a further two years to go.

Every night he takes chemotherapy orally and has a large dose in hospital once a month.

And he has steroids once a month.

Marie says: ‘He is very brave. He has to go for a lumbar puncture every three months to check there are no leukaemia cells in his spinal cord.

‘There have been quite a few touch-and-go moments when we’ve nearly lost him. But because he is so clever we have never hidden anything from him.

‘He said to us early on, “There is no point lying to me, mum, because it’s me going through it”.

‘We just make the information easy for him to understand.’

Despite having three children to look after it actually helps having Sophie and Millie around.

And they take each day at a time. ‘This is our new normal,’ says Marie.

FUNDRAISING

Charlie Harris has been fundraising for the charity, Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group.

In April 20 fundraisers took part in a 20-mile trek around Hampshire, starting from Winchester Cathedral.

Each of them had an app on their phone called Charlie Says which allowed Charlie to guide them from place to place remotely.

They raised £3,000.

Following that success the family are now organising a football fun day called Kicking Cancer for Charlie.

Anyone over the age of six can take part in a football skills tournament at Portchester Football Club on May 29.

Charlie says: ‘I’ve been raising money for poorly children who can’t get better themselves.’

All are welcome.

To make a donation go to cclg.org.uk/Kicking-Cancer-for-Charlie.