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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 00:11 GMT
'Few people understood about my cancer'
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online Health Staff

Anna, Tom and  Lucy Morrissey
The children wanted a better understanding about cancer
When teenager Tom Morrisey got leukaemia, few children at his school understood anything about his condition.

A couple of children teased Tom when his hair fell out following his chemotherapy sessions.

But most were just bewildered at how a boy who had been so well just a few days before could suddenly become so ill and be facing death.

Tom's twin sisters, teachers and friends rallied round explaining the condition to others at the school.

Education

And the school signed up for Macmillan Cancer Relief's Cancer Talk Schools and Youth Programme, which has been specially designed to educate parents, teachers and children about the disease.

But Tom, 13, explained that knowing something about the disease before he became ill last year would have helped him cope with his diagnosis.

I think all schools should raise awareness as it has made things much easier for me
Tom Morrisey

"I was at a football match and when I was warming up I felt tired. Then I went for a routine blood check and they found I had leukaemia.

"I felt really scared when I knew I had cancer. I did not know what was going to happen to me."

He said he had mixed reactions from his school friends.

"Some of them did not believe me and some of the others just got on with it."

His sisters Lucy and Anna, both 16, held a school assembly for the older pupils to explain what their brother was going through and he said this helped change attitudes towards him.

"The year 11's [GCSE students] used to walk past and tell people to stop bullying me because I was bald.

"I do think it was helpful as it helped raise awareness.

"I think all schools should raise awareness as it has made things much easier for me."

Teasing

His father Paul agreed: "I think the teasing came from a minority, but he was fortunate enough to have his sister's friends and they nipped it in the bud.

"It is just the way they treat somebody who is different, but the older kids were able to do something about it."

Colin Roe, Tom's head of year at Tytherington High School in Macclesfield, said Tom's illness had prompted a profound change at the school.

They were helped by the Macmillan teaching pack - which provided lots of tips about constructive ways to deal with the problem.

"We did a fundraising morning where we had silence in personal and social education for the hour, the kids were sponsored, and we raised over 1,000 in the morning.

"They were wholeheartedly behind Tom because it was mainly his year group that was doing it.

"They enjoyed the morning because they weren't taught for the hour - they were working in silence doing their own thing and they had a good morning.

"But fundamentally it's all about awareness, in terms of understanding people who have cancer and what you can do to help them.

"The obvious way of raising awareness is fundraising, but it's also about supporting them in other ways around the school.

"For instance, not avoiding them, and thinking 'he's got cancer I don't want to know him, he's different'.

"Mostly, it's just an acceptance that people have cancer and they live with it, and they're going to fight it."

Sally Lee, of Macmillan Cancer Relief said as so many people came into contact with cancer, it was important to give them as much information as possible.

"The lifetime risk of developing cancer is more than one in three, so it is likely that every family will come into contact with the disease in some way.

"Macmillan is keen to educate children about cancer in a supportive way and help to dispel some of the myths surrounding it."

To order a free Macmillan Cancer talk teaching pack call 0207 840 7805 or email cancertalk@macmillan.org.uk.


SEE ALSO:
Gene therapy 'causes leukaemia'
01 Jun 03  |  Health
Leukaemia survivors reassured
14 Aug 03  |  Health


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