Primary Initial Teacher Education Student, Charlotte Mcnamara, talks about the amazing journey of Oscar Saxelby-Lee, the child of a former Worcester student who overcame cancer with the help of his incredible parents and the community. Oscar and his parents showed great bravery and dedication in treating his illness and Charlotte wrote this piece after the Saxelby-Lee family stayed with her relatives during his treatment in Singapore.
With everything that has been going on in the world, a story to lift our spirits is just what everyone needs right now.
Oscar Saxelby-Lee, who is now 6 and from Worcester, was diagnosed in December 2018 with high risk T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Oscar’s diagnoses was devastating for him and his family and he spent the next 8 months in hospital undergoing intense chemotherapy. The treatment was not working as hoped and it was decided that the best possible chance for Oscar’s recovery, at that time, was a life saving stem cell transplant. So, in March last year, after hearing this news, the community of Worcester came together to help.
Thousands of people stood in line to be tested and placed on the bone marrow register in the hope that a suitable match could be found.
The turnout was phenomenal, so much so that it broke Britain’s record for such an event, with 4,855 turning up at Oscar’s School, Pitmaston Primary.
The amazing news, that everyone had been hoping, for came in; Oscar’s perfect match had been found! Shortly after this Oscar received a potentially life saving bone marrow transplant. The family were ecstatic! Sadly however, the joy of this was short-lived as after more chemotherapy, radiotherapy and post transplant therapy, Oscar and his parents, Olivia and Jamie, received the devastating news that his aggressive form of leukaemia had returned and added to this that there were no other options for treatment in the UK!
The family, even when faced with this tragic news, never gave up hope and they began searching for treatment options worldwide. A very new experimental treatment option was found in Singapore, CAR-T therapy. The treatment involved reprogramming Oscar’s immune system cells, and using these to target and kill the cancer cells. The treatment had only been undertaken on one other child in the world, so this in itself was experimental but it was Oscar’s only chance of survival. Unfortunately there was one huge hurdle to get over before Oscar, Olivia and Jamie could leave for Singapore; the treatment cost £500,000 and Oscar would need to leave as soon as possible to start treatment.
What followed was a wonderful example of how individuals with a common purpose can make such a huge positive difference to others. Britain, the community of Worcester, Pitmaston School and the University of Worcester pulled together from September 2019 to raise money in a multitude of ways. ‘Oscar Day’ was formed and took place on the 11th of October. This was a day when schools, businesses and individuals all got involved, wore red and raised money to help Oscar on his way to Singapore. In Worcester, on the 9th of October, 2019 Worcester Warriors hosted a rugby match between West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police to raise funds. At the University of Worcester, funds were raised in many ways. There was a wear red day by the Education department, a dance show by the Dance club, quizzes by the Equestrian club as well as other events hosted by the Students union in October 2019.
Miraculously, the money was raised which thankfully enabled Oscar and his parents to begin what was to be a very long and emotional journey. The Saxelby-Lees left for Singapore in November 2019, and two hours after landing had their first hospital visit, at National University Hospital. This was the beginning of 6 months of intense treatment, with many highs and lows along the way. On the 16th January, 2020, the family received the news they had been waiting for, Oscar was diagnosed as MRD negative, meaning no disease was detected. This was the best news they could have dreamed of! Even after this wonderful news it was not an easy pathway, there was still more treatment to come! Oscar also needed a stem cell transplant which he received from his Dad Jamie, to ensure his cells would eventually work to kill infected host cells and activate other immune cells.
On the 25th of June, after being cancer free for 6 months, Oscar and his parents returned home to Worcester from Singapore! They were met by family and friends who gave them the most incredible, socially distanced, warm welcome home.
The 20th of July was the day Oscar and has family rang the bell to mark the end of his cancer treatment journey. This was the day Oscar, Olivia and Jamie were dreaming of! It was an emotional day filled with happiness, his family, friends, teachers, classmates and neighbours joined him for the big occasion, outside his house. Oscar is now very excited to get back to school with his friends, as soon as possible!
Oscar’s smile truly lights up any room he is in and he and his family are the most incredible people, who never gave in, despite the odds. I hope Oscar’s story has inspired you to never give up on anything and to always believe in the kindness of strangers.