Friend and neighbour of cancer toddler's parents to run two half-marathons for £200,000 US treatment appeal
When Rebecca Hyland-Hawkins got a phone call from her neighbour, she expected Harriet Wilks wanted to borrow some milk.
In fact, her friend had devastating news: toddler son Archie had just been diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer called neuroblastoma.
Since then Rebecca, a former pupil at Manor Fields Primary School in Bishop's Stortford, has been part of an army of supporters desperately trying to raise £200,000 so the three-year-old can have ground-breaking treatment in the United States.
Archie, an identical twin, has been enduring gruelling treatment at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge since he was diagnosed at the start of 2019.
Simon and Harriet, who both went to school in Bishop's Stortford, need to fund a course of vaccinations at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a world-renowned treatment and research institution in New York. They believe it will give little Archie the best chance of long-term survival once his NHS treatment finishes next year.
Neuroblastoma is a second fight for survival for Archie. He and brother Henry suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome while in the womb, and mum Harriet, 29, a former pupil at Herts and Essex High School, had laser surgery while pregnant to save her sons.
In August, Rebecca, a 33-year-old senior lecturer at Harlow College, raised £650 with a coffee morning at the Methodist Church in South Street. She said: "Bishop's Stortford shoppers were so generous."
On Friday (Sept 6), she and colleagues walked from Stansted Airport College to Harlow College, and she is training for two half-marathons, in October and March.
Before the first of those runs, an open-air cinema screening of cult classic Dirty Dancing will take place on Sunday, September 22 at the Coach and Horses pub in Newport, the village where Rebecca and the Wilks family live.
Rebecca said: "When my family moved to a new house we didn't know we would become best of friends with Simon and Harriet, who live directly opposite. It now feels like we've known each other for a lifetime. My youngest, Alex, is only six months younger than Henry and Archie, and it's great to see their friendship grow daily.
"When Harriet phoned on January 18 I thought she wanted to borrow some milk again, but actually it was the total opposite – a phone call that I will remember forever.
"Their family life turned upside down. Most parents on their child's third birthday are happily opening presents, seeing friends and family, and celebrating by holding parties and days out. But Archie's parents had the most devastating news – a mass had been found by Archie's kidney."
During his chemotherapy, Archie has been plagued by a series of infections. Rebecca – who is mum to Eleanor, 12, who attends Joyce Frankland Academy, Imogen, 7, a pupil at Newport primary, and toddler Alexander – said: "There have been many ups and downs."
Rebecca and husband Tom have also seen at first hand, and tried to help with, the juggling act Simon and Harriet face caring for Archie in hospital while also looking after his twin Henry.
She said: "I'm proud to call them my friends and ready to travel the long journey with ups and downs alongside them. We will soon be sat together watching the boys' first Christmas play and cheering them on together in their first sports day. This is why I'm trying to help raise as much money as we can. "
The appeal now stands at £113,015.28. Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/Archiesjourney. For details of the fundraising events, see Archie's Journey on Facebook.