Peter’s story began in 2005 when he was just 16 years old.
On one otherwise relatively normal day, Peter came home from school and told his family that one of his teachers had noticed something strange around his jaw. After taking a look themselves, it became apparent that there was a lump under his jawbone. They visited the doctor that same day and with a potential diagnosis of a blocked gland and he was sent home with antibiotics. After these had no effect, he was referred to the local hospital. It was here identified that it was indeed a lump. At that time Peter was told that it wasn’t anything to worry about. The lump was removed at East Grinstead Hospital and his family felt at ease that this ordeal would now be over, but his feeling of relief did not last. When Peter was in recovery from his operation the surgeon informed the family that there were multiple lumps attached to his jaw and that they could indeed be cancer. Another referral and another specialist. Peter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Synovial Sarcoma. The 5 year rollercoaster ride began.
The first step on Peter’s road to recovery was intensive chemotherapy. Due to the nature of his cancer there was cancer tissue remaining in his jaw and to ensure a full recovery all of it had to be eradicated to prevent recurrence. At the time of his treatment chemotherapy drugs were very strong and had many side effects. Peter lost his hair, his immune system was dramatically weakened and he was very sick. His frail condition meant that he had to spend vast amounts of time in the Teenage Cancer unit, a specially equipped ward for young cancer patients. His mother Rose and father John were at his bedside every day even though they had to travel to London, over an hour from their home. His sister Susie could only see her brother at the weekends when she wasn’t at school, at this time she was only 12. Once Peter had recovered from the gruelling bouts of chemotherapy, radiotherapy began. A mask was moulded from his face to allow the radiation to only reach the affected area. Every weekday for 3 weeks Peter would have to travel from one hospital to another to have the treatment and he would have a week to recover. The therapy made him very tired and his jaw inflamed. Even though he was very ill and very tired of being in hospitals, Peter would always have a smile on his face when his family walked in to see him. He never complained, no matter how much pain or discomfort he was in. He really was an inspiration.
The next stage was a very radical operation. This 12 hour procedure entailed removing part of Peter’s jaw which was affected by the cancer and replacing it with metal plates and part of one of the bones from his leg. In order to do this quite a few of his bottom teeth had to be removed and replaced with implants, an operation carried out further down the line. You can imagine how terrified a 16 year old would be by the prospect of this. However Peter put on a brave face and took it all in his stride. Whilst Peter was being operated on, his family had to wait anxiously, anticipating the changes they would see in him and the speediness of his recovery. The operation was a success and the doctor informed them that if the cancer were to return, it would be in his lungs or legs. When they visited him afterwards, it was revealed to them that Peter’s face had swollen significantly, making him unrecognisable. A result of the swelling was that he was fed through a tube that was inserted into his stomach. He was also on crutches. This continued for a long time; however his family tried to see the situation in a positive light. Rose would occasionally get the pressure wrong in the syringe and the liquid feed would squirt all up the walls! Positivity and laughter was paramount to them getting through these tough times. They had to believe that Peter would recover and normality would be resumed. Nothing else could be contemplated.
Recovery was a long uphill struggle, but thankfully normality was once again reached. Peter could return to being a typical 16 year old. He went back to college and even started driving lessons. He delighted his family when he passed his theory test nearly to the standard an instructor has to achieve. Then he went on to pass his practical test. As part of a syndrome Peter had, called Asperger’s, Peter would become almost obsessed with certain things, leading to his passions. Driving was one of them, as well as Doctor Who and Sunderland Football Club – inspiring our logo. Unfortunately after almost three years in remission, Peter started to experience breathlessness and trouble with his breathing. Subsequent to another doctor visit and an x-ray it was discovered he had a vast amount of fluid in his lungs. The cancer had returned. The family’s worst fear had come true.
Peter was referred to The Royal Brompton Hospital; a specialist hospital for lungs and hearts. There he underwent more surgery to remove the cancer. It resulted in one-half of one of his lungs being removed and over three months in hospital. They were told that 99% of the cancer had been removed but there was some they couldn’t remove as it was too close to the diaphragm. After the operation, he had 4 drains in his chest and wasn’t able to walk. A trip around the corridor would wear him out. The relief all the family got when he was released after such a long time in hospital was indescribable. Although it was a bittersweet moment, as they knew he would have to return for more chemotherapy.
This bout of treatment started not long after he returned home. Again, it made him very ill. He had to be admitted to hospital several times for high temperatures and infections. After a few months of remission after the therapy, Peter started to develop lumps on his back. They grew to the size of baseballs. Chemo recommenced. At this point, Peter had become very weak and his appetite had diminished. The hospital urged the family to go on their holiday to France that had been previously arranged so that he could get away for a couple of weeks. Little did they know the hospital had suggested this because they had predicted the deterioration of Peter’s health. The holiday went on as planned, but Peter was very sick. He was constantly bringing up his food, coughing 80% of the time and he couldn’t walk very far at all. Peter’s family just believed that when they returned home he would undergo more treatment and everything would be fine. However very soon after he returned home in August 2010, his consultant in London informed Peter that there was sadly nothing they could do for him anymore. The world crashed down for John, Rose, Peter and Susie. None of them had predicted this outcome. They all believed Peter would recover. In their eyes, he had to.
Being told he was terminal didn’t stop Peter. He planned a whole list of things he wanted to do. He wanted to go to the Houses of Parliament, Legoland, Hever Castle and more. Wanting to create something truly amazing for Peter to look forward to, Susie had researched online and discovered a charity called Dreams Come True. After getting in contact with them, they had agreed to send Peter and his family to Disney Land, Paris. This was to happen in September 2010. Unfortunately, Peter never got to do these things. His health rapidly deteriorated. By the time of the arranged holiday, Peter was in a local hospice.
The love Peter had around him at this awful time was unbelievable. He had so many visitors his room was heaving. There was only a smile on his face when his loved ones were by his side. Susie stayed with him a few nights because she knew just how happy it would make him. Peter seemed so well for much of his stay in the hospice. He would laugh and joke with his visitors and demand that they watched films!
Sadly Peter passed away on 22nd September 2010 with his family around him.
Anybody that knew Peter would tell you how brave and inspirational he was. He took all stages of his illness in his stride and would always think of others, even when he was lying in a hospital bed. He truly was a beautiful special person that is and always will be sorely missed by his friends and family.
Peter deserves to be remembered and his family believe that something good should come from his death. In memory of him, they have set up ‘Peter’s Place’.
‘If it wasn’t for peters place, we wouldn’t be seeing as many beautiful smiles as we are’