Father-of-two Peter Atkinson, 33, was inspired to run the 2017 London Marathon for CLIC Sargent after the charity provided vital support when his five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
Peter, a maths teacher from Rochester, and his wife Helen, first noticed their daughter Beth was becoming increasingly pale and tired as she moved into Year 1 in 2015.
Peter said: “She was never normally ill; she’d only had one afternoon off school in the whole of her first year. She began to have night sweats but we just thought maybe we had the radiator too hot or it was on the blink. It was coming towards winter, so we thought she might be coming down with a cold, gave her Calpol and carried on as normal.
“At the time, nothing really stood out for us as being majorly wrong but looking back we had little signs that something wasn’t right. Sometimes she just wasn’t herself but couldn’t explain why.”
On the first day back to school after October half term, Beth’s parents received a phone call to say she had ‘taken a funny turn’. They took her to the GP who suggested a blood test just to be on the safe side.
A couple of days later, with Beth back at school, the family received a phone call from the local hospital that they needed to go immediately for further tests. The very next day they received the shocking news that Beth had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Peter continued: “As soon as we got that call to go to the hospital we knew it must be something serious, but we still had no idea it might be cancer because she didn’t seem that poorly.
"She was still our happy, smiley little girl. When we were told Beth had cancer it was devastating.
"We both vividly remember that night, as it was 5 November we were hearing the fireworks going off all around us but we just felt numb and like our world was crashing down.
Following the diagnosis in November 2015, Beth was put onto chemotherapy treatment immediately. As no beds were available locally the family were transferred all the way to University Hospital Southampton more than 115 miles from home.
Peter said: “It was very daunting to have to travel so far and leave our younger daughter, who had only just turned one, with my wife’s parents, especially as she was too young to understand why we were going away without her. The whole situation was hell but the staff at the hospital were amazing.
“Beth is very bright and aware, so from the start we sat down and talked to her about cancer. We made a point of using the words ‘cancer’ and ‘leukaemia’ because we knew people would be talking about it around her and we didn’t want her to be scared or confused by anything she saw or heard. Now she is very comfortable with discussing her condition and treatment.
Support from CLIC Sargent
During this time, the family had support from a CLIC Sargent Social Worker at Southampton and were also able to stay at CLIC Haven, CLIC Sargent’s Home from Home in Southampton where families can stay for free to be close to their child during treatment.
“Being so far away from home and family was hard but the ‘Home from Home’ gave us peace of mind knowing we had a room that was only two or three minutes’ walk from Beth’s bed.
"It was invaluable to us to say there, it gave us a base and a homely place to stay and spend time with our youngest when she came to visit. If we had to get a hotel for the duration of the stay it would have cost us hundreds of pounds.
“Lucy, our CLIC Sargent social worker at Royal Marsden, is a constant familiar face - I can chat with her about how Beth is getting on, and how we are coping, and she lets me know about any support that’s out there which is vital for us, particularly as my wife had to give up work to care for Beth and be there for her weekly blood tests and chemotherapy appointments.”
Thankfully the initial treatment was a success and Beth is now in remission. Whilst there is still the best part of a year of chemotherapy left until she is finally in the clear, Beth’s school continue to be hugely supportive and has resumed attending Rainbows and swimming lessons – she wants to be an Olympic swimmer when she grows up. As a result of her determination to carry on doing well in school and keep her attendance up, she won the ‘Triumph Over Adversity’ award at the Kent Children’s Awards last October.
London Marathon 2017
Now Peter is determined to give something back to CLIC Sargent by running the 2017 London Marathon on 23 April.
He said: “I’ve always wanted to do something like this but until now I’ve never really had that reason to go out and put myself forward for it. I wanted to repay some of that support that CLIC Sargent have given us. They gave us stability while everything else was unstable, particularly in those first few darkest weeks. I want to help make sure they can help as many other families as possible.
“The thought of raising money and knowing how it can help others will give me the motivation to get through to the finish line and I want to face it in the same positive way that Beth has faced every day of the last 18 months.”
Find out more
You can support Peter with his fundraising by visiting his official JustGiving page or text ‘CSBA55’ and an amount of £1, £2, £3, £5 or £10 to 70070.