Cancer Research Campaign: Sam was nearly four when the doctors told us

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Samantha Richens is a lively teenager with a passion for netball. Yet nine years ago no one knew how long she had to live. She was diagnosed as having Wilms' tumour, a type of kidney cancer that mainly afflicts small children, writes Cherrill Hicks.

The Richens live in East Grinstead, West Sussex, and Sam was sent for specialist treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton. "We were told she had a good chance of pulling through, although she would have to lose the kidney and undergo chemotherapy," says her father, Brian. "None of it seemed real. There she was, running around in the garden. It seemed strange knowing she was facing major surgery."

The five-hour operation to remove Sam's kidney went well, although it was a worrying time for the Richens family. "They'd said they would examine the tumour once they'd removed it. There are two kinds of Wilms' tumour and they hoped it would be the one which is easier to treat. Unfortunately, it wasn't. We were told she would need more extensive chemotherapy, so she was allowed home for a while to build her strength up."

Sam travelled to the Marsden for treatment every three weeks. Seeing the side-effects of the drugs on their daughter was extremely stressful. "Sam used to be violently sick several times each treatment," says her father. "Then her hair started to fall out. She had beautiful blonde hair. With her big, blue eyes she was a photographer's dream, but eventually she had no hair left at all. Luckily, she was too young to be self-conscious.

"Her mouth was full of ulcers which made it difficult to eat and the drugs weakened her immune system, so she became prone to infection and had to return to hospital several times."

Finally Sam's treatment came to an end. Tests confirmed that the cancer had gone completely. It has not returned. Sam, now 13, still attends hospital for regular monitoring and because she has reached puberty doctors also keep an eye on her development, to make sure it has not been affected by the drugs. Her remaining kidney functions normally.

Nowadays Sam wears her hair fashionably long and , unlike her parents, recalls little about her illness. "She's getting on well at school - we're proud of her," says Brian. "It seems a long time ago when she was in intensive care with yet another infection and I was wondering if she would pull through."