The family of a Tring schoolboy have told how their lives were turned upside down when their young son was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Charlie Pudney was just seven years old when doctors discovered he had an ependymoma.
But one year on the Bishop Wood Junior School pupil is fit and healthy once again – even if the whole family have been changed by the experience.
Mum Vicky Pudney takes up the story: “In hindsight, the first sign that something was wrong was when he was sick one night out of the blue after tea at his grandparents’ house during the February half-term in 2015.
“It was a month later that he was sick next – straight after breakfast one morning. I put that down to him eating too quickly.
“A few weeks later, we were on holiday over Easter. Charlie was sick on the plane on our way out there and again on the way back.
“He didn’t eat very well while we were away and seemed a bit sleepy but I put it down to travel sickness, jet lag and the heat. Other than that we had a blissful holiday with no idea of what was just around the corner.”
Charlie’s health continued to be a worry yet doctors were baffled by the symptoms.
He would vomit when he woke each day and complained of headaches, but tests for a suspected urine infection came up blank.
Charlie was also lethargic, but did not have signs of a temperature or vomit other than in the mornings.
And even when Vicky rushed Charlie to A&E when his vomit was blood red one morning the mystery still seemed no closer to resolution.
She said: “The visit to A&E was relatively uneventful and appeared inconclusive.
“The doctors appeared perplexed by Charlie’s symptoms. Yes he had vomiting, and yes, a few mild headaches, but their timings and intensity didn’t fit with a brain tumour diagnosis. Neither were there any signs of imbalance, eye problems or any seizures which are all common signs.
“The evidence of blood in the vomit that morning was also a bit unusual – until Charlie decided to tell us he had had a nosebleed that morning too.”
This left doctors still drawing a blank but did allow them to rule out a number of serious explanations.
An MRI scan was quickly arranged for after the weekend, and Vicky prepared to take Charlie to hospital on Monday morning, kitted out in his school clothes and ready to go on to work herself.
Vicky said: “After the scan we were asked to go straight to the paediatric unit to wait for the results.
“I can still remember being annoyed that I would now be even later for work.
“What happened next is still a bit of a blur and I am sure always will be. It felt like a cross between being violently winded and an out of body experience.”
By mid-afternoon Charlie was on a hospital bed at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, due to undergo further tests.
Doctors found a tumour and Charlie was put on steroids to control the swelling ahead of his operation.
And the day before his operation Charlie’s whole class from school turned up to visit him for a game of football and picnic. Vicky says: “It was just what we needed and meant so much to all the kids, not just Charlie but for his friends who found it hard to understand why he had disappeared so suddenly from school.”
Charlie eventually underwent a three-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the tumour.
And while biopsy results revealed that Charlie needed proton beam therapy to reduce the chances of the tumour recurring, this meant the whole family had to relocate to the USA for nine weeks as the treatment is not available in the UK.
Vicky said: “To look at Charlie now, save for the small patch of hair missing on the back of his head, you would have no idea what he has been through.
“He’s back to his football and everything else he did before, it’s incredible. I pinch myself as I think how lucky we have been. Sometimes I feel anxious that things are too good to be true and worry about what might be around the corner.
“I try my best to be optimistic about the future and we are trying very hard to enjoy life as it is now. The NHS has been fantastic.
“Charlie has follow-up scans every three months and his experiences mean he is not so keen on hospitals now.
“He can’t stand needles – a feeling we share – and we negotiate over what treat he can have after his scan.
“Happily, Charlie is the same little boy as he was before although, emotionally, the experience has changed Ian and me. We live for now and don’t take anything for granted as the future is so uncertain.”