A NORTH Yorkshire schoolgirl, who is celebrating one year since completing treatment for cancer, is calling on people to help tackle the devastating loss of funding for cancer research, caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Grace Smith, or Binky as she is known to friends, 10, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in April 2017 aged just seven.

She and her family have vowed to help Cancer Research UK continue its mission as it launches an urgent new appeal for donations to help get life-saving work back on track.

Following the cancellation of fundraising events like Race for Life, the charity is expecting a staggering £160 million drop in income in the year ahead.

As a result, Cancer Research UK has had to make the difficult decision to cut £44 million in research funding, but this is likely to be just the beginning.

Grace, who is a pupil at Nawton Primary School, near Helmlsey, completed two-and-a-half years of treatment which included being on a clinical trial funded by Cancer Research UK.

Her mum Kathy Boothman, 47, who is an emergency care assistant with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service based in Malton, said: “We didn’t know it at the time, but the trial Binky was on was funded by Cancer Research UK so we want to do all we can to help highlight the importance of research.”

That’s why they’re helping to highlight the threat the funding gap poses to future breakthroughs for cancer patients across the UK.

Grace, who is an avid horse rider, was diagnosed just over three years ago after she was no longer able to keep doing the activities she loved like cross country running and horse riding.

Kathy said: “She just wasn’t herself and was very lethargic, which for the ball of energy that she was, was very strange. She also developed a strange cough that wouldn’t shift.”

Things reached a head when she was competing on her horse George just before Easter weekend in 2017 and she was very out of breath and struggling to keep going.

Kathy said: “We went to the GP who referred us to York Hopsital for a chest X-ray and blood tests were also taken. From then on it all snowballed and we were immediately referred sent to the haematology and oncology unit at Leeds General Infirmary and told she had cancer.

“Binky was admitted to hospital where she began six weeks on intensive chemotherapy and isolation. She had all kinds of procedures and tests from biopsies to lumbar punctures, but she remained so brave throughout.

“There was no time for me to take in what was happening as it all happened so fast, but now I look back and can’t quite believe that was our life.”

Grace was eligible to take part in the UK ALL 20011 trial, a Cancer Research UK funded trial looking at treatment for children and young people with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and lymphoma.

The aims of this trial are to see if changing the standard treatment for children and young people with the cancer will reduce side effects and help stop their disease from coming back.

Kathy said: “Grace was kept informed of what was going on and we allowed her as much as possible to make decisions herself. This included discussions about being on a trial and she wanted to take part if it helped other children like her in the future.”

After the six weeks intensive chemotherapy the mass in her chest had gone and she was able to continue with the next phase of her treatment.

Kathy added: “Binky was on steroids as part of her treatment and while they commonly make people gain weight, in her it was the opposite and she lost a lot of weight, so the doctors had to work to try and ensure she was getting enough energy to cope with the treatment.

“Another side effect of her treatment was a complete loss of movement in her legs and she couldn’t walk. She really struggled going from a very active little girl into having to bum shuffle around the house to get anywhere.

“But over time she built up her strength and adapted. Around the same time we got a puppy and we were able to use that to encourage her to do more and more and soon enough she was taking her for short walks and getting stronger. At was also able to get back on her pony Donna. She was her first pony and was incredibly gentle and quiet so we knew she was in safe hands for a steady walk. This was a big milestone for Binky.”

After the six weeks in hospital Binky’s teacher took time to come and see her to help her catchup with school and then when she was able she was back to school and seeing her friends again.

Kathy added: “We were so grateful to her school and how all our friends rallied round. They even decorated our living room for us when we were in hospital. We appreciated the support so much.”

After two-and-a-half years of treatment Binky completed her final treatment in August 2019 and is now back living life to the full riding her pony.

During lockdown she has continued her check-ups with her consultant via video calls and will go back to the LGI soon for blood tests.

Kathy said: “Like everyone else we’ve been managing with lockdown as best we can, but as we live on a farm Binky’s home-schooling is more likely to be done in a tractor and running around the yard.

“It’s great to see how far she has come. Sadly we recently got a sad reminder of the other outcomes of cancer when we lost a friend of hers from the ward. It really hit us and showed how lucky we are. We can’t thank the team enough for how they helped her. Now she’s just a regular young girl with lots of attitude and getting back to what she loves most, riding.”

Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.

Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity currently funds around 50 per cent of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK.

However, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, promising projects which could have the big answers to cancer are being held up.

Kathy said: “Our experience means we understand the importance of Cancer Research UK’s work all too clearly. It’s thanks to improved treatments that Binky was able to beat cancer– so it upsets me to think about research being delayed and what this might mean for people affected by cancer in the months and years to come.”

Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for North Yorkshire, said: “We’re grateful to Binky and her family for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation.

“Covid-19 has put so much of our research on pause, leaving us facing a crisis where every day and every pound counts. We will never stop striving to create better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.

“Whether they donate, sign up to Race for Life at Home or shop at our stores - with their help, we believe that together we will still beat cancer.”