The parents of a three-year-old boy being treated for a rare childhood cancer have spoken of the strain of juggling hospital stays with caring for his healthy identical twin at home.
Archie Wilks is being treated for neuroblastoma at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and is frequently separated from his identical twin brother Henry who remains at the family home in Saffron Walden, Essex.
“Living on a child oncology ward and either missing their twin brother or juggling looking after them when you’re home is indescribable,” Archie’s father Simon Wilks told PA.
Archie was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in January this year after becoming ill and unable to stand a few weeks earlier.
Two tumours were found around his kidney and spine and the disease had spread to other areas, including his bones and bone marrow.
He started rapid COJEC chemotherapy – eight lots of chemotherapy 10 days apart – which aims to reduce the size of the tumours ready for surgery.
But during the treatment, Archie developed sepsis and chemotherapy could not continue until he was well enough to have his Hickman line replaced.
Scans which followed the rapid COJEC chemotherapy showed the tumours were stable but had not reduced in size.
Archie is now on cyclo-topotecan (two different chemotherapy drugs) which doctors at Addenbrooke’s hope will shrink the tumours. Scans in a few weeks will check if the tumours have shrunk enough to allow Archie to have surgery.
The Tottenham Hotspur fan could then undergo stem cell harvesting, intense chemotherapy in isolation, radiotherapy and immunotherapy, with treatment expected to last around 18 months in total.
“As anyone would expect, this has been an extremely difficult time for our family,” said Mr Wilks, a manager for motor insurance company HIC in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire.
“Due to the nature of the disease, the treatment is very aggressive and has knocked Archie’s immune system for six.”
A few months ago, Mr and Mrs Wilks, who married in Florida in May last year, were warned that there was a chance the cancer had spread to Archie’s lungs. Thankfully it was just an infection which has since cleared.
“This was the hardest time we’ve had to go through, and led us to talking about what we would do if the worst was to be confirmed, which no parent wants to be doing,” Mr Wilks said.
“The mental strain of seeing your child go through this is felt by all our family and friends.”
He added: “Also the physical impact of not moving much whilst on the ward, with Archie being bed-bound for weeks at a time is hard.
“As one parent has to stay on the ward, we’ve had to take it in turns to either be at the hospital or at home with Henry and we’ve taken to judging this by how mentally or physically strong either one of us feels at the time as to how many days straight we’ll take on the ward.
“This has all happened at a time when the boys seem to be changing from babies to boys and it’s been comforting to see them both growing into cheeky and clever children despite everything that is going on around them.”
While Mr Wilks, 31, and his 29-year-old wife Harriet – an auditor for the same insurance firm – care for their twins, others are donating and raising money towards their £200,000 target to enable Archie to take part in a vaccine trial in the US which could reduce the chance of the cancer returning once Archie is in remission. More than £70,000 has already been raised.
“It’s amazing to see how all our family, friends and even strangers have been touched by Archie’s situation and have looked to help us by being with Henry, taking the odd night with Archie or fundraising/donating to Archie’s cause.”
The family found out about the vaccine trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York while researching neuroblastoma.
“The treatment is worth doing as they have research and results that show it can reduce or remove the chance of a child relapsing from the disease,” said Mr Wilks.
“50% of children successfully treated for neuroblastoma will relapse. If a child relapses with neuroblastoma, 90% will not survive.
“This treatment will look to reduce the chance of that happening and allow us all to know we have done everything possible to give Archie the best chance at life.”
“The fundraising has completely blown us away. We are so overwhelmed by the support from everyone,” he added.
“Family, friends and even people we have never met are not only donating, setting up or supporting fundraisers, but are also giving us a huge amount of mental support with their efforts and acts of kindness.
“It’s one thing to have close family and friends helping to raise money for Archie, but to also have strangers contact us and tell us how they are going to help, and people raising hundreds or thousands holding events such as quiz nights and fun days and doing sponsored runs and skydives is truly amazing.”
He said it had given the family “a boost at this difficult time”.
“We still have a long way to go to reach Archie’s target and we can’t thank everyone enough that is helping to give Archie and our family the belief that he will get through this and reach his target along the way,” he said.
To donate, visit the Archie's Journey Just Giving page.
In a bid to raise funds, two teams of celebrities will face off at a football match, with Jeff Brazier, Dan Osborne and Jake Quickenden among the famous faces taking part.