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Brave little Banbridge schoolboy Adam Watson's a bell of a fighter


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Adam Watson pictured at the children's hospital in Belfast

Adam Watson pictured at the children's hospital in Belfast

Stephen Hamilton

 Adam is just beaming

Adam is just beaming

Stephen Hamilton

Adam with mum Sara and dad David

Adam with mum Sara and dad David

Stephen Hamilton

Adam Watson pictured at the children's hospital in Belfast

Co Down schoolboy Adam Watson has had plenty to celebrate over the last few weeks following the toughest year of his young life.

Not only did he mark his eighth birthday on Wednesday, but he also got to ring the bell to signal the end of his treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) - almost a year to the day he was diagnosed with the disease.

The double celebration comes just a few weeks after Adam returned to Abercorn Primary School in Banbridge, near where he lives with his mum and dad, Sara and David.

Adam's treatment, which included chemotherapy and AmBisome anti-fungal infusions, ended just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Northern Ireland back in March, but due to restrictions, the bell ringing at the Children Cancer Unit at the Royal was postponed until now.

His mum Sara described her only child as a "remarkable wee boy" who'd shown great bravery and strength throughout his cancer journey.

"Adam is back at school and it's like he's never been away," Sara says.

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Adam Watson pictured with staff the children's hospital in Belfast after his cancer treatment had finished. Mandatory Credit  / Stephen Hamilton

Adam Watson pictured with staff the children's hospital in Belfast after his cancer treatment had finished. Mandatory Credit / Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Hamilton

Adam Watson pictured with staff the children's hospital in Belfast after his cancer treatment had finished. Mandatory Credit / Stephen Hamilton

"Before Covid hit, we were in a bubble of sorts already because Adam was going through gruelling treatment and we had to be so careful with him. But at least his grandparents were able to see him.

"Lockdown was so tough because we couldn't have anyone round to the house or even go out to the shops if we ran out of milk. Our parents did our shopping.

"Now we have to try and get used to this new normal and new restrictions and I guess I'll always be a bit paranoid and worried. If he gets a sore leg or a cold, my automatic reaction will be 'what's going on?'

"But the school made sure the right procedures were in place and he went back on the same day as the rest of the pupils."

Adam was diagnosed with AML on September 21 last year, just days after his first symptoms began to appear. To begin with, Sara noticed a small rash on his arm that didn't disappear when she carried out the glass test on him. Her doctor told her to keep an eye on him and call back if he started to feel unwell.

When he developed cold symptoms and complained of feeling sore and tired, Sara thought he was coming down with a viral infection and brought him to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics for a sore throat. Knowing something wasn't right, Sara and David brought Adam to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry where he was given more antibiotics. When they later returned again a number of tests showed that Adam was suffering from pneumonia and then a blood test flagged up an issue that showed the little boy had leukaemia.

Sara says: "He's our only child and he's everything to us. I couldn't believe this was happening."

A specialist team transferred Adam to the children's haematology and oncology ward at the Royal and Adam underwent chemotherapy for 10 days, twice a day. He was allowed home for a short stay but returned to hospital for further chemo sessions. He spent around 30 days in hospital, including Christmas Day.

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 Adam is just beaming

Adam is just beaming

Stephen Hamilton

Adam is just beaming

Throughout the treatment, Adam coped well with the side effects and though missing his school friends, kept in touch with his best pal, Emily, virtually. Close relatives were also allowed to visit him. But just as he was preparing to head back to school, lockdown was implemented. The restrictions proved tough for the young family.

Sara recalls: "We lost any kind of normality we'd had. No one was allowed in and we weren't allowed to take Adam out.

"But it did give him time to rest up before returning to school."

Now back among his classmates, Adam is thriving and doing well. His eighth birthday was an emotional day for his mum and dad, as they watched him ring the bell. To thank the Children's Cancer Unit Charity for their 'amazing' work and support throughout Adam's diagnosis and treatment, Adam and David organised a sponsored head shave, which went viral and raised over £21,000.

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Adam with mum Sara and dad David

Adam with mum Sara and dad David

Stephen Hamilton

Adam with mum Sara and dad David

September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the Watsons want people to know that there is hope.

Sara says: "We want other people who find themselves in this situation to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can come through it, like we did."

Between 60 and 70 children are diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland every year.

Felix Mooney, chairman at the Children's Cancer Unit Charity adds: "We are delighted that Adam and his family got to enjoy this important milestone and look forward to seeing more and more families affected by childhood cancer ring that bell."

Sunday Life