Mason Harding, a pupil at Palatine Primary School in Worthing, was nominated by his dad, Nathan Harding, as he is recovering from T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and had a bone marrow transplant in November 2019, meaning he spent that Christmas in hospital.
Nathan said: “We nominated him as he has been through so much in his life, he has kept smiling and being his usual cheeky self throughout. He is really excited by this.
“He is loved by everyone who meets him. He is a very happy boy who loves his PlayStation and Manchester United. He also loves Greggs and McDonald’s. It’s great for a child to get recognised by such a leading and big cancer research charity.”
Mason was born at 27 weeks and spent 11 weeks between the Trevor Mann Baby Unit in Brighton and Worthing Special Care Baby Unit. He has learning disabilities, mobility issues and chronic lung disease.
Mason was diagnosed with cancer in February 2019, when he was six and was transferred from Worthing Hospital to paediatric intensive care at St George’s Hospital in London, where he was ventilated.
Nathan said: “He was struggling breathing. We arrived at about 3am on Sunday, February 3. He was ventilated at about 9am. Whilst in there, they found fluid on his heart so they had to blue light him, still sedated, to the Evelina London Children’s Hospital for a perricardial effusion.
“He was transferred to the Royal Marsden in Sutton and underwent chemotherapy. They tested him via lumbar puncture and bloods regularly and the levels went down and he was in remission.
“Then in July 2019, we were told the chemo was not bringing his levels down enough. They have a joint committee with all the paediatric cancer hospitals in the UK. They all agreed that a bone marrow transplant was his best option to cure the disease.”
Nathan and his wife Sara were tested and both were only a 50 per cent match, so they had to search globally for a donor. Two suitable matches were found and the team settled on a 27-year-old man in America who was a 90 per cent match.
Mason was given maintenance chemo, followed by a course of Neralabin, which is specific to T-cell leukaemia.
Nathan said: “This worked after two courses. He then went in to have conditioning chemo on November 8, 2019. He also had to have TBI radiotherapy, to kill his bone marrow.
“He had the transplant on November 15, 2019, and then spent until before Christmas in isolation in a room at the Marsden. This is a special room that is ventilated with filtered air to help keep infection away. He had to have a PICC line removed as he got sepsis and other infections.
“We spent all of Christmas 2019 in hospital. We were allowed to stay with our eldest son, James, 11, on Christmas Eve with him and allowed out for a couple of hours Christmas Day. We spent all of new year in the hospital and he was discharged in January 2020.”
Regular check-ups at the Marsden followed and Mason’s six-month lumbar puncture test showed no trace of the disease.
Nathan said: “This is a milestone, as if he relapsed in this time, there would be no further treatment for him.
“We all had to shield during lockdown as he was clinically extremely vulnerable until a year post transplant. He had a relapse scare in December 2020 but this showed no sign of disease. They think the treatment has caused bone density issues in his leg.”
Mason was also looked after at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, after he ‘just fell asleep’ for three days in 2019, and by Sussex Community NHS Trust’s children’s community nursing team.
Nathan said: “He also has respite care with Chestnut Tree House, who are amazing and love having him there.”
The Star Award celebrates courage in children who have been diagnosed with cancer within the past five years. The scheme is run in partnership with TK Maxx and every child eligible receives a trophy, t-shirt, certificate and £50 voucher. Their siblings will get a special certificate too.
Visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/children-and-young-people/star-awards for more information.