Walking, talking and celebrating life for Spread a Smile
This October youngsters who are being supported by Children in Need will join Countryfile on a series of walking challenges across the UK. Last year this raised £1.8 million for Children in Need to help support a number of charities including Spread a Smile.
Tune in to Countryfile on BBC1 this Sunday, 16 September, from 7pm, to see how Spread a Smile supported and entertained the inspirational Amy Foster, during her cancer treatment.
Amy, previously a patient at UCLH has made an inspirational recovery and will be leading one of the rambles this year. Sunday night’s programme will follow her story.
In early 2017, when just twelve years old, Amy developed a severe pain in her knee. Initial evaluation by a medical practitioner suggested nothing seriously wrong, but Amy’s mum Kathy, knowing that Amy had been a very fit, active and healthy young girl, pushed for further assessment, and in March of that year Amy was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a cancerous tumour, in her femur. Osteosarcoma is a rare cancer that normally affects young children and is commonly found in the femur just like Amy’s.
After diagnosis, Amy spent much of the next 12 months in and out of hospital and that’s when we first met her. She was treated with gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that required lengthy stays in hospital. She also endured major surgery to remove the bone and replace it with an internal prosthesis, after which Amy had to learn to walk again.
We met Amy during our regular visits to University College Hospital (UCLH) where we would take our team of entertainers to the hospital. We know that Amy particularly liked Magic Martin and his wonderful magic tricks which would always bring a smile to her face.
As Amy spent so long in hospital, Kathy and her husband Simon alternated staying with Amy at UCLH and looking after their younger daughter Freya back home in Kent. Kathy tells us, “As well as the love and support of family and friends we could not have got through much of what happened during this time without the support of a number of small charities dedicating their time and resources to supporting sick children both in and out of hospital.
“Amy has a particular soft spot for Spread a Smile who, without fail, visit children each and every week in various hospitals, bringing along entertainers and therapy dogs to brighten the darkest of days. They do exactly what they say they do. They make very sad and vulnerable children smile when they need it most. They made life better for her. They made her smile.”
“You watch your child in hospital simply not being a child. They can barely lift their head off the pillow some days and then the magician comes in from Spread a Smile and you watch them stop being a patient and start being a kid again.”
“If I could erase whole portions of last year from my mind I would do that now. But people like Spread a Smile, those are the things that have provided the highlights of the year.”
Amy said, “Spread a Smile make a massive difference because without them there wouldn’t be any colour in any of it. It would be just like it was all grey and black.”
Amy has made great progress since her long and arduous treatment; she’s back at school, enjoying life to the full and, incredibly, walking without any aid. Looking at her now, there is no outward sign of her prosthesis, except a slight limp. Kathy describes her as a quirky, geeky, fun-loving girl, who loves nothing better than spending time with her friends, reading a good book or enjoying a history-filled visit to a National Trust property. Her doctors and nurses have been astonished by her recovery, and her mum puts it down to her stubbornness! Amy was told that she would never regain a large amount of flexibility after her prosthetic surgery, but Amy is enjoying proving everyone wrong. She has worked hard to gain a range of movement in her leg that was thought impossible, and now can even sit cross-legged.
Sadly, although her recovery has been astounding, Amy is not able to do many of the physical activities she loved before her diagnosis. She was a keen trampoliner and dancer, but what she misses most of all is sailing. She sailed every week with her beloved granddad Eric in a Dart 15, a type of catamaran, at Seasalter in Kent. She would head out with her granddad every Saturday morning at 7 or 8 am, spend a day on the water, returning late into the evening after enjoying fish and chips for her tea. As crew to her granddad’s helm, the pair even took part in competitions. Now that Amy’s mobility is limited, she can’t dash about on the boat. A catamaran is flat, and sailors have to be able to move from one hull over the netting in the middle to the parallel hull, and it’s easy to skid off. To allay some of her frustration, Amy has taken up kayaking and canoeing as a means of getting back on the water without the need to use her legs too much. Amy is determined to get back on the catamaran with her granddad, although mum Kathy thinks it may be at least a year until that is possible.
To celebrate her regained mobility, Amy very generously decided to raise money for Spread a Smile. Kathy said she wanted “to give something back to help those that have helped her”. She chose to do a fundraising walk at Seasalter, the ideal location given its association with her love of sailing – a fitting celebration of her courageous journey to walk again. The walk was a triumph: Amy was joined by over 90 friends and family and raised over £1500.
Amy turns 14 in early September and her next big adventure is to lead a ramble on an episode of BBC’s Countryfile. Countryfile will film her, her mum, dad and sister, as well as a few close family and friends and some members of the team from Spread a Smile, as they walk around the countryside surrounding Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. Amy and her family are happy to be part of the programme as it will be a means of highlighting Spread a Smile’s commitment to Amy and other children like her. Spread a Smile’s work is being highlighted as part of BBC Children in Need which currently provides funding to Spread a Smile.
You can apply to join Amy and be part of the ramble taking place on 7 October at www.bbc.co.uk/countryfile. You need to apply by midnight on Sunday 15 September.