Two schoolboys treated at Addenbrooke’s Hospital for cancer teach their family and friends how to cope with isolation during the coronavirus lockdown.

06 May 2020
Best buddies Oliver Doughty and Lucas Newton, both aged 12, were forced apart by cancer because their chemotherapy treatment left them prone to infection.

Now the lifelong friends, who still can’t meet up because of the coronavirus lockdown, have come together to support Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life at Home challenge.

Lucas Oliver

Oliver and Lucas, from Bury St Edmunds, already know what it’s like to live in isolation having gone through gruelling cancer treatment which often left them both house-bound. Oliver, who is half-way through a three year treatment plan under the care of his consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2018, and Lucas, who has just recently been given the all clear, with Burkitt Lymphoma in 2019.

The pals, who live in the same village, go to the same school and play in the same football team, supported each other during their chemotherapy treatment and even compared which drugs made them feel sick and which they felt were ok. Although Oliver still has some way to go with his treatment and is not due to finish until April next year, both boys were recently given the go-ahead to meet up again until coronavirus struck and scuppered their reunion plans.

Oliver’s dad, Chris, who works as a prison officer, said: “Oliver and Lucas have been through so much together. They have already endured isolation because of their cancer treatment and spent months apart -which must have been so difficult for them at their age when a large part of  your life is about hanging out with your best buddy. Just as they were about to meet up they have been forced into separation yet again because of the coronavirus. It’s heart-breaking to see such close friends still apart after the difficult and long journey they have both gone through.” 

The boys are determined to use their own experience to help their friends and family cope being home alone during the lockdown. The  football crazy friends keep in touch whenever they can and regularly speak on the phone and use social media to update each other on what they are doing.

And now thanks to their dads, Chris and Scott, the two boys can still play keepie uppie with each other. To help keep the boys in touch and have some fun while in isolation, the dads recently arranged and filmed a virtual game of keepie uppie with the boys passing the ball to each other through home video.

Oliver, who has been practicing his football skills in his back garden during lockdown, said: “Lucas is my best friend, we have known each other for ages, we play in the same football team and, since we both got diagnosed, we have become even closer. Isolation is difficult but  you just have to keep busy, learn something new, like another language.  I go into the garden and play football a lot, I’ve been practising and I have reached 100  and it’s good to know that Lucas is also doing the same in his garden.

Lucas said: “Oliver is my best friend, he knew what was happening when I went through cancer and he was someone I could talk to about things that no one else understood. It was bad that we both had cancer but at least we went through it together and helped each other. If it wasn’t for coronavirus  we would be playing football together and hopefully we can do so again soon. The best advice for isolation is just to keep yourself busy, do anything to stop yourself getting bored, you have just got to find something to do and make sure you do it.”  

Chris added: “The boys have coped amazingly well and are still the best of friends -nothing will break the strong bond between them, not cancer or coronavirus. The way they have coped is a lesson for all of us, especially in this current climate. We are all in isolation because of coronavirus  and it’s only now that you really get to appreciate how difficult if must have been for the boys being apart for so long. They didn’t complain, they just got on with it and, If they can do it, then we can do it too and stay in isolation. Oliver and Lucas have done so well and they know this is just a moment in their lives and it will pass by. It’s amazing just what can be achieved through friendship and loyalty.” 

Lucas’ father, Scott, who is also a prison officer, said: “We are all so very proud of them both. Lucas and Oliver are friends for life. When both boys were diagnosed with cancer it left us all in complete shock. For it to happen to two lads who have been best mates for years is beyond words. When Lucas got ill, there we were in the same hospital with Oli next to him. They used to talk about their treatment and  help each other which was fantastic but also quite shocking when you hear your 12-year-old son and his best  friend talking about cancer as if it was normal, It’s not something any parent wants to hear.”

Dr Amos Burke (Consultant Paediatric Oncologist) and Dr Anne Kelly (Consultant Paediatric Haematologist) who are members of the CRUK Cambridge Centre Paediatric Programme and consultants at Addenbrooke’s Hospital said “The money raised by CRUK will help us make kinder and safer treatments for children like Oliver and Lucas. Cancers in children are different to cancers in adults and often have lifelong consequences. It was a pleasure to look after Lucas and Oliver during their treatment at Addenbrooke’s but research is vital in helping us improve the way we can tackle these diseases in children and young people.”

Oliver, a Man City fan, and Lucas, a Spurs fan, remain the best of friends in lockdown and are sharing their tips on how to exercise and keep fit in the garden, while also coping with being alone during isolation as they prepare for their own garden Cancer Research UK Home challenge.

Organisers Cancer Research UK have postponed or cancelled Race For Life events for this spring and summer to protect the country’s health during the coronavirus outbreak  -and this includes the Cambridge RFL on Sunday 5th July which can no longer go ahead*

As the nation remains on lockdown, undeterred women and men are vowing to carry on and complete a Race for Life at Home challenge on their own in local countryside, neighbourhoods, gardens and behind their front doors

Thanks to the generosity of people across Cambridge, Race for Life participants have supported vital research to develop gentler and more effective treatments for cancer – a disease that will affect one-in-two people in the UK at some stage in their lives.

Many of the scientists and researchers funded by Cancer Research UK are currently being redeployed to help in the fight against Covid-19, including assisting with testing. By helping to beat coronavirus, the charity can lessen the impact it is having on the care of cancer patients.

Patrick Keely , Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Cambridge, said: “ It’s fantastic to see Lucas and Oliver lending their support to Race For Life Home challenge. These two best friends have been through so much together and there is a lesson there for all of us in this current difficult time about staying in touch, friendship and helping each other cope during difficult times.

“At a time when it feels like everything is at a standstill, there is one thing that hasn’t stopped, cancer. Our priority as a charity is ensuring that people affected by cancer are getting the support they need right now.

“But we are already getting people asking about doing Race for Life at Home because they don’t want to see the charity lose out on vital funding. It’s truly humbling to see the response.  

“So from their homes, we’d love for supporters to join us and Race for Life at Home in these challenging times. From a run or 5K walk around the garden to limbo in the living room, there is no wrong way to Race for Life at Home. With no entry fee, people might choose to twerk, limbo, star jump, squat, skip, dance, or come up with their own novel way of taking part and share it with friends. The message is very much that ‘while we might be apart, we’re doing this together’. There is no wrong way to get involved and join our community.

“Those lucky enough to have a garden may choose to make use of it but whatever people decide to do, we are immensely grateful for the support, now more than ever. If the idea takes off, we could be looking at hundreds of people in Cambridge stepping forward to Race for Life at Home and perhaps collecting sponsorship to do so.”

People can visit raceforlife.org and sign up free for ideas on how they can create their own Race for Life at Home challenge. And the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Facebook page will help people feel energised with weekly live workout sessions. Organisers are also inviting participants to join the Race for Life at Home community by sharing photos and videos on social media using the hashtag, #RaceForLifeAtHome.

Every hour four people are diagnosed with cancer in the East of England*. But the good news is more people are surviving the disease now than ever before. Cancer survival in the UK has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

Patrick Keely continued: “Cancer is still happening right now and we want to do everything we can to help give people more tomorrows with their loved ones.

“At a time when we’re having to keep apart from each other, there is still a way to unite. We’re urging everyone who has supported Race for Life in the past to please continue supporting us. Sadly, cancer touches almost every family at some time.

“Race for Life is a hugely moving experience as people remember loved ones lost to cancer, celebrate the lives of those dear to them who have survived or support those going through treatment.

“We encourage those choosing to Race for Life at Home to participate in whatever way they like and there are lots of ideas on the Race for Life website. We appreciate that the current situation has resulted in financial uncertainty for many people, so people should only contribute sponsor money if they feel able to.”

Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work relies entirely on the public’s generous support. The charity was able to spend over £56 million last year in the  East of England on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

You can watch a video of the boys’ story here.

Visit raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770. Join in and share with #RaceForLifeAtHome