Inspirational West Lothian schoolboy becomes face of nationwide campaign to help young people with cancer
A brave West Lothian schoolboy who underwent a life-saving transplant during the Covid-19 pandemic has become the face of a nationwide campaign to help young people with cancer.
At the age of just 10, Leo Barker’s world was turned upside down in June 2021 when he was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma – a rare tumour which begins in the liver.
Months later, just weeks after his 11th birthday, Leo was airlifted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he went into surgery for six hours and came out with a new liver.
Now, Leo is helping raise money for research to improve survival and reduce long-term side effects for children and young people with cancer.
The 11-year-old is starring in a poster appeal for Cancer Research UK to mark this September’s childhood cancer awareness month.
A photograph of Leo during cancer treatment with gold balloons in the background will feature in the windows of the charity’s shops this autumn.
The youngster, who is now back at school and winning medals again at judo competitions, said: “Thanks to life-saving treatment I’m back at school and back on the judo mat.
“In June 2020 when the world was in lockdown I was diagnosed with cancer in my liver.
“My mum took me to the doctor because I had a lump in my stomach. Later that day the doctors in the hospital told me it was cancer.
“Everything happened so fast. I had chemotherapy and eventually needed a liver transplant. I was flown down by air ambulance to Birmingham Children’s hospital where I had my transplant.
“I was dancing six days later. I am so happy to be feeling better and to have my strength back. I am loving spending time with friends and competing on the judo mat again. I recently won a bronze medal at the British Judo schools championships.
“I am so grateful to all the doctors and nurses and research teams that helped make me better.”
Leo’s mum Laura Barker, 41, dad Stephen Barker, 44, and brother Cole, 14, understand all too well the importance of new discoveries and breakthroughs that could help more youngsters survive cancer with a good quality of life.
Mum Laura said: “We are so proud that Leo is a poster boy for this crucial campaign.
“I’m proud of Leo for approaching every day with a smile and proud of my older son Cole for the strength he’s showed and for helping to keep Leo smiling. They’re a team and are close as brothers.
“I hope Leo’s story will help other families going through cancer. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Scots can support research to help save more lives by picking up a gold ribbon badge – the awareness symbol of Childhood Cancer Awareness month- available from Cancer Research UK shops and selected TK Maxx stores during September.
Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, Lisa Adams said: “This year marks our 20th anniversary, and so we’re reflecting on the huge progress that has been made thanks to the generosity of our supporters. But, together we can go further.
“Cancer in children and young people is different to cancer in adults – from the types of cancer to the impact of treatment and the long-term side effects survivors often experience. So, it needs different, dedicated research, that we’re grateful to people across Scotland for helping to fund.
“We hope people will wear a gold ribbon pin badge with pride this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, for making our life-saving work possible.”
Supporters can also raise money by donating any pre-loved quality fashion and homeware at TK Maxx, as part of its Give Up Clothes for Good campaign. When sold in Cancer Research UK shops, each bag of items donated could raise up to £25, or £31 with Retail Gift Aid.
Find out more about how to get involved at cruk.org/childrenandyoungpeople