A group of 27 volunteers who have battled a rare cancer and campaigned to raise awareness of the condition have been recognised at a special charity event.
Vision Express paid tribute to the retinoblastoma (Rb) survivors for the vital role they’ve played as ambassadors for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), rallying support at approximately 95 store openings and fundraising events across the UK. The prize-giving event was held to celebrate the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust’s 30-year milestone, with Vision Express taking to the stage to honour the survivors who have touched the lives of so many employees and customers over the past seven years.
Around one child a week is diagnosed with the aggressive cancer retinoblastoma in the UK, and in many cases children will need to have an eye removed to stop the cancer spreading and save their life. Around 98 per cent will survive but early diagnosis is crucial.
Each member of the inspirational group – the youngest of which is just nineteen months old (Sebastian Burrell) – was handed a medal and will receive a pair of custom-made protective sports goggles, to give them added confidence to participate in sports and physical pursuits.
Following the awards presentation, Vision Express presented CHECT CEO Patrick Tonks with a cheque for £20,000 representing the donations received in hundreds of Vision Express stores across the UK over recent months.
Sebastian, nicknamed ‘Super Seb’, recently helped relaunch the Southampton Vision Express store. He was diagnosed with Rb in both of his eyes in October 2016 when he was just nine months old, after his parents spotted a squint. He has since undergone seven doses of chemotherapy and has limited sight.
Brave toddler Eliza Deakin made medical history following her diagnosis at two months old. Now four, Eliza was the first in the UK to receive intra-vitreal chemotherapy (delivered directly into the eye) in a bid to control the tumours and save her sight. Despite ongoing treatment, Eliza is a committed ambassador and has taken centre stage to support Vision Express events in Bradford, Baildon and Penrith.
Fintan Morley-Smith, aged 10, had life-saving surgery to remove both his eyes after battling the rare eye cancer for the first six years of his life. Now cancer-free, he wears artificial eyes and is helped in his everyday life by his ‘buddy dog’ Audrey, who accompanied Fintan recently to open a new-look Vision Express store in Aylesbury.
Rob Carmichael, from Vision Express, who awarded the courageous youngsters their medals, said: “It is really important to publicly pay tribute to the ambassadors and thank them for their support as we do our best to raise money and awareness for what is such a devastating condition. We’re honoured to have a long-standing and award-winning partnership with CHECT. It’s a charity very close to our hearts, with stores and employees across the UK championing the cause through a whole range of initiatives, in a bid to help them support more families affected.”
CHECT CEO Patrick Tonks added: “Our most recent research shows 86 per cent of parents had either never heard of retinoblastoma or didn’t know much about it. The signs and symptoms of this devastating cancer are subtle so it’s vital that mums and dads are aware, otherwise they could easily be missed. Our partnership with Vision Express is so valuable because it helps spread the word about Rb, educating customers and promoting the importance of an eye test, which is crucial for a speedy diagnosis. The ambassador programme, building relationships between local store teams and cancer survivors is a huge success because it is led by the children and families who have been so directly impacted by retinoblastoma. As a small charity, we receive no government funding, so the financial support we receive from Vision Express plays a crucial role in helping us continue to our work to support families impacted by this aggressive cancer. We can’t thank them enough.”