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Norwich teenager's cancer fight

PUBLISHED: 08:23 23 June 2011

Norwich 16-year-old Jade Bowler, who was diagnosed with leukaemia last June but is now home and feeling better.; Photo by Simon Finlay

Norwich 16-year-old Jade Bowler, who was diagnosed with leukaemia last June but is now home and feeling better.; Photo by Simon Finlay

Archant © 2011; 01603 772434

The parents of a bright and bubbly teenager have told how she has battled leukaemia with a smile on her face, despite a year of gruelling treatment.

Jade Bowler has spent nine months in hospital, undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

Now, recovering at her family home in Holmes Close, Heartsease, the 16-year-old has had time to reflect on the past year, which saw her spend 63 days in isolation, including Christmas Day, and fight potentially deadly infections and a collapsed lung.

Jade is upbeat about what she has been through. She said: “Everyone thinks it’s all doom and gloom, but it isn’t.

“We have had so many laughs on the wards. You have just got to stay strong and focused on getting better.

“I have made friends from all over the country, and we all keep in touch on Facebook and compare how long our hair is now.” Dad Kevin, 51, who works at the Smurfit Kappa factory in Norwich, and mum Beverley, 43, a carer, said: “It was touch and go about five or six times. It wasn’t the hand we wanted, but we were dealt it, so we played it and we have tried to have a good old laugh.

“We are just so proud of how Jade has handled this, she always tells us that there are a lot more children worse off than herself.”

Jade first realised she might be ill when teachers at school started telling her she looked very pale.

One day she walked into the city and complained about her feet hurting, but she and her mum put it down to the shoes she had been wearing.

Her shoulder hurt, but that was blamed on a heavy school bag. In the end, her mum took her to the doctor and a blood test was done. When the results came back, the family was rung straight away - at 11pm - to ask them to take Jade to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Jade was asleep so they went at 7am the next morning. By 8am they had been given the diagnosis and the family was rushed on blue lights to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where she could be treated straight away.

Mr Bowler said: “The NHS has been fantastic. They were doing things beyond the call of duty for her that first morning we went into hospital and they have been great ever since.”

Jade spent just one night at home over the next nine months, as she underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy before having a bone marrow transplant at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

She and her mum spent 63 days in isolation following the transplant. Even Christmas presents had to be wiped down before being brought into her room, and their Christmas tree was an inflatable plastic one which could be cleaned.

Luckily Mr Bowler was able to stay in a house near the Bristol hospital, thanks to children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

But while there the family received the devastating news that Mrs Bowler’s mother had died. The couple could not leave Jade alone at the hospital, and if one of them left and contracted a bug then they would not be able to return, so they had to take the heartbreaking decision that they could not even go to the funeral.

Mr Bowler said: “It was Bev’s birthday around then too, so in that house in Bristol we had birthday cards, get well cards, sympathy cards and Christmas cards all on one window sill.”

Despite all she has been through, Jade has kept up her studies, recently taking her GCSEs and she hopes to go on to the academy’s sixth form to study health and social care, child care and art.

She hopes to become a young person’s support worker, after being inspired by the worker who helped her from the Teenage Cancer Trust, and she wants to use her own personal experience to help others.

Jade is now counting down the days until she will be able to swim again, something she loved doing before she became ill.

There are still regular trips to the N&N and Addenbrooke’s, as well as a transplant anniversary check-up in Bristol, but things are looking positive.

Jade sums up the past year as “upsetting, fun, and sometimes crazy but we got there in the end.”

In tomorrow’s Evening News, Jade tells how she was granted the wish of the lifetime and got to go shopping with top television fashion stylist Gok Wan.

• Do you have a story about an inspiring teenager? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk.

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