It has to be every parent’s worst nightmare – being told that your child has cancer.
But this was what the Trew family from Wickham St Paul had to face when their son Joshua, then aged five, complained that his vision had gone fuzzy.
Mum Beverley and dad Peter, a self-employed builder, took him for an eye test which showed his optic nerve was pale, where it should have been red.
After a worrying week of tests at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Joshua’s parents were given the devastating news that their little boy had a brain tumour caused by a condition called neurofibromatosis.
Just days after diagnosis, Joshua was undergoing the first of a series of chemotherapy treatments that were to last for 18 months.
Beverley, who works as a catering assistant at De Vere Primary School in Castle Hedingham, is still tearful when she recalls the time of Joshua’s diagnosis.
She said: “Our lives were turned upside down. We are his mum and dad and we would do anything for him.
“We tried to carry on as normal and as sane as possible, because we also had to consider his brother. I told Joshua it would be all right and he trusted me, but inside I was the one who was falling apart.
“We explained it to him by saying he had a spot in his head and he needed some special medicine to take it away.”
That special medicine was to involve the family in many trips to both Addenbrooke’s and Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for monthly chemotherapy sessions.
Joshua also had to endure a full blood transfusion on each occasion, because the chemo hit his immune system badly each time.
Medics told the family that benign tumours had grown on the nerve endings in Joshua’s brain.
But surgery was not an option, and treatment had to progress very slowly and carefully because of the neurofibromatosis, which can induce other medical problems.
Joshua, now aged eight, attends De Vere Primary School with his brother Archie, 11.
Beverley adds: “The tumour has shrunk considerably, but it is still there. Potentially, we could have to go through all this again.
“Joshua has a brain tumour, and it sounds very scary, and we have been through hell for 18 months, but that is the hand we have been dealt and you just have to get on with it.”
Beverley said the condition is thought to be genetic and the family had to be tested as some people carry the illness but have few or no symptoms. They all tested clear, but the illness is relatively common, affecting one in 250 people.
It can affect different areas of the body, either internally or externally. Some people have to repeatedly return to hospital for operations to keep the benign tumours in check.
She added: “We feel grateful that Joshua hasn’t got to go to hospital at the moment – we would like to think that this is it now.”
The tumours have left Joshua, of Church Road, with very impaired vision in his right eye – he can only see about one metre ahead of himself. His left eye is slightly better, but far from perfect.
He manages his school work with the help of a special magnifying glass, and he has had to have extra help since all the trips to hospital meant he lost over a year of schooling.
Beverley said: “It is amazing though, how he has adapted. There are some days when we forget he is visually impaired.”
But the family are just celebrating some good news. A cycling charity called Cyclists Fighting Cancer have donated a tandem bike to them so they can go out on family cycling trips together.
Although paid for by the charity, the tandem has been put together by Leighton Taylor of Torque Bikes in Cross Street, Sudbury.
Leighton has just become involved with the charity. He donates his time by taking delivery of the bikes, assembles them and customises them.
He also carries out basic checks such as height adjustment of the handlebars.
He said: “Apparently, research has shown that getting out and being active can help recovery.
“I usually do single bikes so doing a tandem has been a bit more of a challenge. I hope it will enable them to get out as a family again.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Beverley, who says: “Joshua was just using stabilizers on his bike when his illness hit.
“We used to go out as a family for bike rides but because Joshua is visually impaired, there is no way this could happen now.
“With the tandem, Peter can be on the front and Joshua can ride on the back. It’s about giving him some of his childhood back.”
She said the family were very grateful to the charity for the gift: “It is so nice that someone out there has raised money to enable my son to have a bike which we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.”