Teenager beats cancer twice to lead vital fundraising drive

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Inspirational teenager Sally Cornes has bounced back from cancer twice to became the face of a new fundraising campaign.

The 13-year-old has been chosen to launch TK Maxx’s Give Up Clothes for Good campaign, in support of Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People to mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month all September.

The Parklands High School student was first diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma three years ago, after experiencing a nagging pain in her back which wouldn’t go away.

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Sally was 10-years-old at the time and in her final year at primary school. It was first thought she had pulled a muscle from her gymnastics and dancing classes. But as the weeks went on, her pain got worse and it started to wake her up in the middle of the night.

Sally Cornes, 13, of Chorley, has beaten cancer twiceSally Cornes, 13, of Chorley, has beaten cancer twice
Sally Cornes, 13, of Chorley, has beaten cancer twice

Eventually the pain got so bad Sally could barely move her body, and her concerned parents Jo and Richard rushed her to accident and emergency at 3am.

Initially doctors put the pain down to a chest infection but after a series of tests and scans, Sally’s family received the devastating news that their daughter had a cancerous tumour on her rib.

Mum Jo, 48, says: “It was heart-breaking to be told that Sally had cancer and in an instant our world completely shattered. You never in a million years think this sort of thing is going to happen to your family and our world as we knew it completely changed overnight. From that point on, we knew that Sally’s treatment had to be our focus and we were swept into a whirlwind of hospital appointments and scans.”

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Sally was referred to Manchester Children’s Hospital and in the following months she underwent five-hour surgery to remove her rib as well as 14 rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

Sally during chemotherapySally during chemotherapy
Sally during chemotherapy

She and her family were also flown to Germany for pioneering proton beam therapy which uses high energy radiation to target cancerous tumours.

Jo, who is also mum to 16-year-old Milly, says: “As a family we knew we had to pull together to get through this. Some of the side effects of treatment were brutal and there were days that Sally was completely exhausted, but I was absolutely amazed at Sally’s positivity and determination. She always has a smile on her face and even managed to keep up with her dance classes whenever she could.”

Sally’s father Richard, also 48, even shaved his head in solidarity with Sally, who lost her hair due to the side effects of chemotherapy.

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A year on from the diagnosis, in summer 2018, Sally completed her treatment and was told she had no more evidence of the disease in her body. However, just 18 months later, the family received the devastating news that the cancer had returned.

Sally on holiday in CornwallSally on holiday in Cornwall
Sally on holiday in Cornwall

In January Sally’s neck became so painful she was unable to move it and she was once again rushed to A&E by her concerned parents.

Hospital scans showed the Ewings Sarcoma had returned to one of the vertebrates at the top of Sally’s neck and that she would need urgent treatment to reduce the tumour. It was just days before her 13th birthday party.

Jo says: “It felt like history was repeating itself as the doctors confirmed our worst fears. We suspected that something was seriously wrong because Sally was in so much pain, and this time she couldn’t even move, eat or get up to go to the loo. But it still felt unreal to hear those words from the doctor.”

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Once again, Sally embarked on an intense course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to target the tumour at both Manchester Children’s Hospital and the Christie. Her treatment coincided with Covid-19 pandemic, so both patient and her medical team have had to be extra vigilant.

Sally, right, with sister MillySally, right, with sister Milly
Sally, right, with sister Milly

Sally’s most recent scan in July showed the treatment had worked and she has no more evidence of cancer in her body. The family enjoyed a recent trip to Cornwall to celebrate.

Jo says: “It’s thanks to science that Sally is here today. She is living proof of how research and treatments into cancer really do save lives but more research is needed. Unfortunately, the prognosis for relapse with Ewings Sarcoma is poor and my worry is if she were to relapse again there are currently very few treatment options. That’s why raising money for Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People is so important – especially as the coronavirus pandemic has hit charities so hard.”

Sally and her family are encouraging the public to help more children and young people survive cancer by donating any quality clothing, accessories and homeware they no longer need to their nearest TK Maxx store.

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When sold in Cancer Research UK shops, each bag of items donated could raise up to £25 to help fund research into children’s and young people’s cancers.

Jo says: “I hope everyone across Lancashire will get behind this vitally important campaign and turn something they no longer need into funds for such a fantastic cause.”

“The last few years have been extremely tough on all of us, but Sally’s incredible bravery has kept us going. Even during the most difficult times, she always has a smile on her face and we are all immensely proud of her.”

Sally during radiotherapySally during radiotherapy
Sally during radiotherapy

Since her diagnosis Sally has started an online blog at http://sallycornes.blogspot.com/ and has also been vlogging about her experiences of cancer on her YouTube https://tinyurl.com/y56nfgd2 channel and also TikTok: @sallycancer Instagram: @sallycancer Snapchat: @sallycancer

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Sally says: “I’ve been through a lot in the last few years but I wanted to share my story with other people who help others who might be going through a similar experience.

“When doctors first told me I was poorly, it was really scary and I had a bit of a meltdown about losing my hair. But I soon realised that if I stayed focused and determined then I would be able to get through this.

“In my blog I’m really honest about what I’ve been through and talk about the highs and lows of having cancer. Even though you can’t control what is happening to you, you can control how you respond to it.

“I’ve got hundreds of followers from all over the world and it’s amazing to see the cancer community come together. If I can help just one other young person then that’s got to be a positive thing.”

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Anna Taylor, North West spokesman for Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People, says: “We’re incredibly grateful to the Cornes family for their support during these unprecedented times. Sally’s story is one of hope and inspiration – she is living proof of how research into cancer really does save lives.

“Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults – from the types of cancer, to the impact of treatment and the long-term side effects survivors often experience. That’s why it needs different, dedicated research which campaigns like Give Up Clothes for Good help to fund.

“The truth is Covid-19 has slowed us down, but we will never stop. We want to help more children and young people survive cancer with a good quality of life. So, we hope as many people as possible will help to get our life-saving research back on track by donating any quality clothes or goods at their local TK Maxx store.”

Jo Murphy, assistant vice president of corporate responsibility at TK Maxx, says: “We’re incredibly grateful to our associates and customers in Lancashire who have helped us to raise millions for research into children’s and young people’s cancers.

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“We’re making every effort to ensure that people can donate safely, so we can keep transforming their pre-loved items into vital funds. We hope the local community will show their support, because their donations really could help to save lives.”

For more information visit cruk.org/childrenandyoungpeople.

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