THEY’RE cancer’s forgotten victims; too old for a cute photo in the paper and too young to leave a grieving family.
Every year hundreds of teenage cancer patients die in Australia, mostly unnoticed apart from their family and close friends.
Melville’s Hugh Atkinson is one of the lucky survivors.
Aged 15, and just days after being named in the WA schoolboys cricket squad, he was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that attacks bone and tissue.
Two out five patients are dead within five years, and the news hit the Atkinson family hard.
“Hugh had experienced a slight pain just below his left knee for three weeks but as it wasn’t stopping him playing cricket we thought it was just normal,” says dad Jeff.
“His mother said ’you’re playing cricket three times a week, you have to expect some slight aches and pains’.
“On April 15 we took Hugh to his physio Ben Gardiner…”
Fortunately Mr Gardiner had seen the symptoms of sarcoma before and recommended Hugh have an ultrasound.
After a battery of x-rays and CAT scans, Ben was given the devastating news: “You have a tumour and need to see your GP ASAP.”
Hugh started chemotherapy 15 days later and underwent nine months of gruelling treatment, including six months in Princess Margaret Hospital and surgery to remove the tumour and save his leg.
“He went to school whenever he could and U17s cricket training sometimes straight from the ward 3B,” says a proud Jeff.
“He wasn’t able to train but would stand behind the nets offering support or run fielding drills.”
Hugh finished his treatment a day before Christmas eve in 2015 and has been declared free of the disease, but still undergoes an MIR and blood test every three months.
Only 250 new cases of sarcoma are reported in WA every year, but Hugh and Amanda Williams — a fellow Melville cricket club player and talented state prospect — were both diagnosed in the last two years.
Williams also underwent successful treatment, but is still on the long road to recovery.
“The future is still a little of an unknown, with frequent and regular scans needed for the next 10 years of my life, hoping each time that they will remain to be clear,” she says.
“Being that I am now nine months past my surgery, I am feeling more and more able to take on fitness goals every day.
“I am still having physiotherapy sessions to help address movement and scar tissue issues I have been left with in my rib/shoulder/chest wall.”
Sarcoma mainly affects adolescents and is often mis-diagnosed or shrugged-off as growing pains, so Melville’s cricketers will increase awareness with the Sock it To Sarcoma! tournament on February 4 and 5.
Matches will be held at Tompkins Park, Fletcher Park and James Oval, with funds raised going towards the “Sock It To Sarcoma” charity.
The charity was the brainchild of Abbie Basson, who was diagnosed aged 17 and died in 2011.
MCC are planning to make the fundraising tournament an annual event.