A Fife teenager is planning a return to playing football following treatment for a tumour the size of a melon on his spine.
Lee Watson, from Rosyth, travelled to Germany for pioneering proton beam therapy when he was just 16.
After 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of proton beam therapy, the Inverkeithing Hillfeld Swifts player is finally in remission and planning to restart his life.
Now 18, Lee is helping to launch Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life at Home.
He will cheer on thousands of people from across the UK who have vowed to run, walk or jog 5k this April to raise funds for life-saving research.
Lee’s life was put on hold following his shock diagnosis two years ago.
He said: “I felt devastated when I was told I had cancer.”
“I’ve been playing football all my life and thought at first the pains in my legs were from sport.
“It was hard to take in that this was cancer. The treatment felt intense.
“I lost weight and I missed playing football so much.
“But I had a lot of support from my family and my friends did everything they could to help keep me connected with what was going on when I was in hospital.”
He added: “I’m lucky the treatment has worked.
“I’m well enough to get back in to football and on with my life.
“And if I can help some other people through cancer then I’m glad to do that.”
Lee had help from mum Michelle, 49, dad Stuart, 50, and older sister and brothers Dannielle, Stuart and Cameron.
Tumour was pushing on the nerves
Michelle vividly recalls the moment when the family’s lives were turned upside down on January 8 2019.
Lee was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of tumour found in the bone and soft tissue.
His GP initially thought he was suffering from growing pains but his family sought further advice when he hurt himself falling down the stairs at school.
An MRI scan then showed a tumour had been pushing on the nerves in his legs.
‘The worst news you could hear’
Michelle said: “The scan showed a tumour the size of a melon on Lee’s spine and pelvis area.
“That’s what had been causing all the pain.
“The tumour was growing quickly so they thought is was aggressive. Everything else is just a blur.
“It felt like the worst news you could hear about your child.”
The tumour was too close to Lee’s spine for surgery.
So that spring, instead of preparing for his National Five exams, Lee endured chemotherapy.
This left him so unwell he was in intensive care at one point.
By summer, tests showed the tumour had shrunk to the size of a lemon.
However, doctors were concerned that standard radiotherapy could damage surrounding nerves so advised proton beam therapy – a type of radiotherapy that reduces damage to sensitive organs.”
The NHS paid for Lee to be treated in Essen, Germany, in one of the most advanced proton beam therapy centres in the world.
Michelle said: “We couldn’t believe it when the doctors in Edinburgh said to us, you’re going to Germany on Monday.
“We don’t speak a word of German but all the staff at the clinic looked after us well.”
Lee was finally able to ring the hospital bell to mark the end of his treatment on September 6 2019.
The former St Columbas High School pupil now hopes to go to college to study either catering or plumbing.
Michelle added: “Lee went through a really tough time but was always brave.
“I don’t know how we got though it all.
“I think it helped to talk, get support from people and to stay strong and positive.”
New way to fundraise
Cancer Research UK is predicting a £300 million drop in income caused by Covid-19 over the next three years, putting future medical breakthroughs at risk.
All 400 Race for Life events across the country were cancelled last year due to lockdown and this year’s have also been postponed.
This includes events at Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, on June 13, and Camperdown Park in Dundee the following week.
However, the charity will broadcast live via Facebook and Instagram on April 24 and invite people to fundraise by running, walking or jogging 5k.
They can share photos and videos of their efforts using the hashtag #RaceatHome
Around 32,400 people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland every year and one in every two people born after 1960 will get the disease.
But the good news is more people are surviving thanks to vital research.
Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK’s spokeswoman for Scotland, said: “We’d like to thank Lee and his family for sharing their story.
“Even though we have to Race for Life differently this spring, nothing is going to stop us running, walking or jogging to raise money to help beat cancer.”
To enter Race for Life at Home visit raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770.