Two brothers have received prestigious awards in recognition of the courage and bravery they displayed while one of them battled against an extremely rare form of cancer.

In March 2022 Harry Hanlon from Sutton Coldfield was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer which affects the retina of children predominantly under six-years-old.

At the time Harry was just two weeks short of his fifth birthday. The extent of the cancer in his left eye meant doctors at Birmingham Children’s Hospital had to remove the eye in order to save his life.

Harry now wears an artificial eye and continues to have his progress monitored closely to ensure his right eye is cancer free and his left eye socket remains healthy.

Despite the day-to-day challenges which face Harry, he strives to live life to the full with help from his seven-year-old brother Tommy, who provides his younger sibling with unrelenting support.

In recognition of Harry and Tommy’s outstanding efforts and bravery in the face of such adversity, both boys have been named as CHECT Champions by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT).

The CHECT Champion awards aim to recognise the courage, resilience and patience shown by all children affected by retinoblastoma (often referred to as Rb for short) throughout treatment and beyond.

“It all began when Harry had a routine eye test at his school and they detected that he had some kind of distorted vision in his left eye,” says Caroline Hanlon, Harry’s mum.

Harry is dressed as a fireman

“Within days we’d been fast-tracked from seeing consultants at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield to Birmingham Children’s Hospital. It was then we were told the tumour had grown to such an extent that there was no alternative but to remove the eye to prevent the cancer from spreading further.

“Up until then neither we, nor his school, had any idea Harry had been living with this and in such pain. You look back in hindsight and recall that, very occasionally, he might bump into things on his left hand side. But it was never enough to be a concern. He’d been compensating so much that nobody had picked up on it.”

Fortunately Harry’s operation was a success in that it stopped the cancer from spreading, thus preventing the need for further treatment in the form of chemotherapy.

Although the past 11 months have been unbelievably tough on the whole family, Harry’s recovery has been helped by his older brother who has been there for him throughout all the hardships.

“Tommy always wants to help, even to the point of cleaning Harry’s (artificial) eye,” adds Caroline. “They still fall out occasionally, like all brothers do, but the vast majority of the time he supports Harry in any way he can. The two of them have both been so strong. I’m very, very proud of them.”

Harry and mum at a CHECt support event

Harry and Tommy have already received their CHECT Champion medals and framed certificates in recognition of their immense courage in the face of adversity.

CHECT has three vital missions – to offer one-to-one support for families and individuals affected by retinoblastoma, to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms to prompt earlier diagnosis, and to help fund research into the cancer.

“So often, children affected by retinoblastoma face huge disruption, upset and distressing treatment not to mention follow-on check-ups,” says Richard Ashton, Chief Executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.

“We are delighted to recognise the wonderful courage and resilience shown by both Harry and Tommy. They really are thoroughly deserving champions.

“While retinoblastoma is a rare cancer, we urge all parents to be aware of the symptoms and to have their child checked out if they have any concerns at all. The most common signs are a white glow in the eye which is visible in certain lighting or a flash photo, or a squint (lazy eye).”

A huge thank you to the boys and mum Caroline for working with CHECT to get great national media coverage of their story and retinoblastoma. Remember, our support team are here at help – contact CHECT at support@chect.org.uk or 020 7377 5578.