Nearly 10 years ago, in two different parts of the country, two children were diagnosed with retinoblastoma. Their stories bear many similarities – and now the pair have come together to receive a prestigious award in recognition of the courage they have shown during their brave journey…

James’ story

James Marshall, 10, from Northumberland, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in 2009 when he was 20 months old. Tests revealed that James had cancer in his right eye and needed surgery to remove it in order to save his life.

His mum, Julie Ann Weatherly, said: “It all started when I noticed something white in his eye while he was in the bathroom. It must have been the way the light caught it. At first, I thought I was seeing things, but then his grandma took a photo of him. When she had it developed, there it was again, this white light in his right eye.

“We went to the doctors and were assured that it probably wasn’t anything to worry about, but then James started bumping into things because he couldn’t see anything on that side. We managed to get him into the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and it was there we discovered that not only had his retina detached, but he also had a large tumour.

“That was on the Friday. The following Thursday we went down to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital ready for an appointment on the Friday. The Wednesday after that, James had his operation. It all happened so quickly.”

James now wears an artificial eye and undergoes regular check-ups, but he is an active, happy boy who loves playing for his local football club.

Julie added: “James has been magnificent. He loves his football and played in goal for a long time, even having lessons. To be honest he’ll play anywhere – in defence, in midfield, he really doesn’t seem to mind. His artificial eye can cause him discomfort, something which he uses steroid cream for, but other than that he’s just like any other boy his age. I’m so proud of him.”

Olivia’s story

Olivia Harrison, nine, from Armthorpe near Doncaster, was also diagnosed with retinoblastoma in 2009, when she was just three-and-a-half months old.

Tests revealed that Olivia had cancer in both of her eyes and needed to have one of them removed. She now wears an artificial right eye and also undergoes check-ups every six months. But Olivia has not let this stand in her way and is a very happy, active youngster who has worked her way through various swimming badges and become a blue belt at Taekwondo.

Her mum, Jane Harrison, said: “I first realised something wasn’t right when we were in the bathroom together one evening. I’d run the water and put Olivia in the bath. She was lying there, kicking her feet, and as I turned to get a towel I caught sight of a white light in one of her eyes. You could see it under the halogen bulbs in the bathroom but not under the normal lights in the rest of our house.

“I took her to an out-of-hours doctor that night who thought it might be a cataract or detached retina. The next day we saw our own doctor and that led to us being referred to the local eye clinic at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. It was then that we were told she had no vision in her right eye.

“The following week we went to the specialist children’s hospital in Birmingham where Olivia was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. Ten days later she was operated on and, the day after that, began chemotherapy on her left eye. It all happened so quickly.”

Jane adds: “Olivia is such a resilient girl. She embraces life with a real can-do attitude. I’m just so proud of her.”

CHECT Champions

Both children have now been named CHECT Champions by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust. The CHECT Champion awards aim to recognise the courage, resilience and patience shown by all children affected by retinoblastoma throughout treatment and beyond.

Congratulations to all of the children who have won CHECT Champion awards this year, you are all superstars!