Mother's anguish following son's cancer diagnosis - after she also lost daughter to the disease in the 90s
The brother of a young woman whose battle against cancer won the heart of Princess Diana has also been diagnosed with a rapidly-spreading and rare form of the disease.
And in a cruel twist of fate, Barney Woolcock was given the horrific news he had Burkitt lymphoma, which affects just 210 people a year in the UK, on the same day his sibling would have turned 46.
Their mum Judy has now launched a desperate search for a life-saving stem cell donor – and said: “The prognosis is poor if they don’t find one.”
Athletic dad-of-two Barney, 35, was just days shy of his 10th birthday when Louise died after a three-year fight against rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, at the age of just 21.
Her determination, courage, and fund-raising efforts not only earned her a friendship with the royal and famous people – she also had her head shaved by singer Sinead O’Connor – but also led Trinity Hospice in Bispham to name a day unit after her.
Louise first met Diana at Blackpool Town Hall in 1991, when she had spent 30 minutes talking to her, before the Princess of Wales visited Trinity the following July to officially open the Louise Woolcock Unit.
She greeted the talented linguist with, ‘Hello, old friend’, and gripped her hands, kissed her cheek, and chatted to her as if they had been lifelong buddies.
Speaking after the visit, which came just a week before her death, Louise said: “I was really touched when the Princess remembered me. I thought it was funny when I gave her a crystal bowl and she said I’ll never get all my cornflakes in there, but thank you anyway’.
“I was tired the whole time, but it was worth it, I am on top of the world.”
On holiday with Prince Charles on a yacht in the Greek islands when Louise died, Diana sent a short message of condolence to her parents.
She followed it up a few weeks later, spending six hours at Trinity, speaking to patients in a private visit, as well as Judy and staff.
And now, a quarter of a century later, Barney, who lives in Fleetwood with his partner Lorna, is now enduring his own fight against cancer.
Judy said: “He just went in with back ache and they found a shadow on his spine. My legs went. I thought, ‘I can’t do this again’.
“It had been going on for a few weeks and he had been taking painkillers. He went for physio that he paid for himself.
“The pain just got worse and he was taking stronger painkillers and, one day, he just collapsed at home.”
Barney, who went to Breck Primary School and Baines High School in Poulton, where he grew up, was taken by ambulance to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where he had a scan.
“Barney called me straight away and I met him at A&E,” Judy said.
“He just wanted morphine all the time. It was awful. Then I noted people were looking a bit more serious.
“I was still not expecting him to say they had a shadow and it was cancer. I was not prepared.”
Barney started chemotherapy in April, which got rid of the tumour, Judy said.
But just as life was getting back to normal, he collapsed again in October.
Medics initially believed Barney had suffered a stroke or some sort of fit, but then delivered the gut-wreching news the cancer was back – and now growing around his brain.
Judy added: “They said he had to have chemotherapy again. The prognosis was three to four weeks unless he started again.”
Liverpool fan Barney is now in Blackpool Victoria Hospital and is in desperate need of a stem cell donor.
His children, Max, four, and Evie, nine, who doesn’t live locally, know he is poorly but not the full extent of his illness, Judy said.
His older brother Sam, 39, has been tested to see if he can donate stem cells, but isn’t a match.
Barney wrote on Facebook recently: “We need to look all over the UK and the search has started. I’m being a bit urgent as my body is responding to the chemo much, much better than predicted.
“Initially they thought it would just reject it, but it seems every round I’m fighting, I’m winning.
“On the downside, it means the next round of chemo starts soon and lasts over Christmas, so my suite will have to become my grotto. I’m heartbroken for my babies, but I will do what I can to make it magical for them all the same. And I’m sure we can sneak a dinner in here with extra sprouts.”
People under the age of 30 can register as a stem cell donor with Anthony Nolan, while those over 30 can register with DKMS.
Those who do have a one in 790 chance of being asked to donate, charity Anthony Nolan said.
“Around 2,000 people in the UK [are] in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant every year,” it said on its website. “This is usually their last chance of survival.”
But it warned: “While waiting for a transplant some patients, or their friend and families, decide they’d like to raise awareness of the Anthony Nolan register and get their friends and family to sign up.
“It can be great to have something to focus your energy on, and encouraging people to join the register is vital because the more people we have on the register, the more matches we can find. But it’s important to bear in mind that it’s actually very unlikely that we will find a matching donor for you or your loved one through your own appeal.
“This is because there are so many different tissue types in the world.”
Barney’s friends and relatives have raised over £2,000 to help support him, and to buy Christmas gifts for needy and sick children.
Fundraising events have included a charity football match, auction, and 300km run scheduled to take place each day last month.