Every day, seven young people between the ages of 13 and 24 hear the words “you have cancer”.


For a parent, it has to be your worst nightmare; sitting in a hospital consulting room with complete strangers from the medical profession and hearing the words your child has cancer, but that’s exactly what Joanna Smith, a Business Relationship Manager at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, faced in June 2020 as the country struggled with Covid-19.


Jo, mom to a strapping 6ft 4”,15-year-old son, Conall, had noticed a lump in the neck of her second son on March 9th, as the country faced rising Covid cases and a potential first national lockdown loomed, doctors diagnosed tonsilitis and prescribed antibiotics.

However, when Conall still felt unwell and the lump had not disappeared following six weeks of antibiotics, an ultrasound was arranged, and the family were told it was an abscess.

“Conall was sleeping up to eighteen hours some days,” Jo told Prosper, “so call it mother’s instinct, I just knew something wasn't right.”

At this point the country was in its first lockdown, so the doctor wouldn't see Conall, Jo was advised to take her son to A & E if she wasn't happy, where she was told they would drain the abscess.

“We arrived at the hospital,” Jo continued, “And an ENT consultant said it may not be an abscess but a possible branchial cyst, nothing sinister he told me and advised us not to worry.”

Further tests were arranged and Conall endured three MRI scans and a needle biopsy when the scans were inconclusive, whilst the family were told it was still nothing sinister.

The needle biopsy came back inconclusive and on June 5th a deep tissue biopsy was carried out by the team at Walsall Manor Hospital, Conall was then referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

“On June the 9th Conall was rushed to hospital with Sepsis, and my word was about to change forever,” said Jo.

Just over two weeks later on June 25th, Jo was given the devastating news - Conall had Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  

Conall told Prosper, “If anything I was relieved, it was proof that there was something I had to face and deal with, instead of unanswered questions.”

Doctors told Jo that Conall’s cancer had spread from his neck, where they referred to it being like a ‘snood around his neck area’, and to his groin. 

“My world just fell apart there and then,” Jo said, “Like any other parent facing their child’s diagnosis I struggled to comprehend it all, but it was Conall himself who pulled me back to reality, stayed strong and showed maturity beyond his years with his positivity and I can beat this’ attitude.”

At the end of July Conall faced his battle against cancer head-on and started six gruelling months of chemotherapy at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the Teenage Cancer Trust’s unit at Waterfall House.


“The first two months were the worst,” said Conall, “I had pain all over my body and the constant feeling of tiredness and nausea was horrendous. But I’m not ashamed to say the only time I cried was when I started to lose my hair, it was the first and only time I cried,” Conall said.


Responding well to treatment, with his ‘can do’ attitude, Jo and Conall both found comfort and support from the Teenage Cancer Trust, who helped the family by contacting the school and becoming the liaison between Conall’s education provider whilst encouraging Conall to continue with his GCSE studies.  


“I did try to go back to school twice during my treatment, but it became impossible,” Conall said.


“The Teenage Cancer Trust has been a great support to both Con and me,” Jo said, “Putting us in touch with local charities to support and treat Conall, helping to sort out community nurses and timings to make our lives much easier.”


After hearing about Conall’s diagnosis and his cancer journey, Black Country Chamber President, Jude Thompson, chose the Teenage Cancer Trust, alongside Parkinson’s UK, as his charities to support during 2021. 


Mr Thompson, Managing Director at CSCM IT Solutions in Oldbury told Prosper, “Conall’s story was the reason we chose the Teenage Cancer Trust, alongside Parkinson's UK, both organisations do amazing work in areas which are very close to the heart of our Chamber family right now.

Grace Higgins, Regional Fundraiser at Teenage Cancer Trust, said “Teenage Cancer Trust’s special hospital wards, nurses and youth support teams provide patients and their families with the emotional and practical support they need to get them through some unimaginably hard times.

“Each one needs specialised nursing care and support to get them through it. We’re the only UK charity dedicated to meeting this vital need – so no young person faces cancer alone.


“But everything our frontline team does is dependent on donations and the Covid-19 outbreak has seen our charity take a huge financial hit. That’s why we’re so thankful to the Chamber for choosing our charity to benefit this year.

"At this difficult time, this support means so much.”

Meanwhile, as Prosper is published and the country contends with its third lockdown, how is Conall doing?


Well, Conall had his follow up scan just a few weeks ago on the 18th of January and……


“It was all clear,” Jo reports, “he is CANCER FREE and he got to ring the bell on 23rd January in a virtual, socially distanced celebration on the driveway at our home during the current lockdown. 


“He still has a way to go to get over the treatment, the steroids and the severity of the chemo but he is CANCER FREE - onwards and upwards!” she said.


And for Conall, “I turn 16 on 2nd March and I’m hoping to go onto college and study electrical engineering,” he said, “I saw lots of very young people in Birmingham Children’s Hospital really suffering and I realised then that there is, and always will be, someone sadly a lot worse off than me.”


Did You Know:

  • Approximately 220 young people from the West Midlands are newly diagnosed with cancer each year.  

  • Every day 7 young people aged 13-24 are diagnosed with cancer

  • 8 in 10 young people with cancer found the mental health impact of a diagnosis as difficult as the physical side

  • Teenage Cancer Trust is the Number 1 youth charity brand according to YouGov

  • The number of children and young people diagnosed with cancer in the UK has INCREASED by 40% in the last 16 years

To help the Black Country Chamber team raise funds for their chosen charities, please visit their GoFundMe Page

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