Louise Running the Race for Life in honour of her sister

Rare Form of Cancer a Deadly Killer

Cancer is one of the top five killers in Britain, with Cancer Research results showing it killed 254 people for every 100,000 in 2012. Louise Ann Dennard knows only too well how suddenly cancer can strike, having lost her younger sister to Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNST), a rare form of the disease, in 2011.

Louise and Nattalie

Louise and Nattalie

This type of tumour usually affects children and young adults and current treatment for it includes surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Although treatment can help increase the chances of survival, it can also be very hard on the body.

A Shocking Diagnosis

On the 1st March 2011, Nattalie’s lung collapsed and she was rushed to hospital in a critical condition with only a 50% chance of survival.

Louise spoke to us about that difficult time.

“Like the little fighter that she was, she managed to pull through, although post operation she was very weak for a long time. The doctors had discovered a tumour the size of a rugby ball crushing her chest and diagnosed malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (MPNST).

“Prior to this, Nattalie had started to become increasingly unwell and short of breath. Her fitness levels decreased and she had lost a lot of weight. Constant trips to the local GP didn’t seem to gain any positive results and it wasn’t until she asked to go to hospital that the shocking truth come out – had we waited another day, she could have died a lot sooner.”

A Well-known Character

Nattalie in hospital

Nattalie in hospital

Nattalie’s bubbly and cheerful character never failed throughout her battle. On the 23rd March she made the decision to tell her friends about the cancer.

“It was a really brave thing to do and she was determined to tell them herself, even though she was worried she’d lose friends because of it. Being scared of dying never seemed to cross her mind.

“From then on Nattalie remained at the Leicester Royal Infirmary in the Children’s Cancer Ward. She made friends with many of the patients and nurses, who described her as the girl with the ‘brightest smile’.

“She was also known for her sense of humour. Whenever she didn’t want to have physiotherapy, Nattalie used to pretend to sleep and miraculously wake up again when she thought they were out of ear shot. The ‘physioterrorists’ as she called them soon got wind of her game though. It became a constant battle as she would have rather done her own thing, but we got there in the end.”

Living Life to the Full

Nattalie was allowed to go home on the 6th July, the day after her 14th birthday, only having to return to the ward for chemo.

Nattalie back at home

Nattalie back at home

“It was such wonderful news. Whilst back in the comfort of her own home, she shone as the girl everyone knew and loved. She was hardly ever at home, always round at neighbours’ houses or with friends like any normal young girl. She never let cancer rule her and was so resilient – only finding the chemotherapy tough as it made her feel ill.

“Her biggest mission was to go back to school and start her GCSEs, which she managed to do a few weeks after term had started. Making new friends and developing her education were only a couple of her achievements, others were simpler like going out for a bike ride and keeping up with the high demands of our Dalmatian puppy.”

A Downhill Slide

Things appeared to be going well for Nattalie but sadly it didn’t last.

“She started having a lot of pain and needed to rest a lot. One of her legs then began to seize up so she was forced to walk with a frame and have her foot strapped up as it became very floppy. An MRI scan in late November revealed a new tumour that needed treatment but this time the medics opted for radiotherapy.

“At the beginning of December, the doctors told us that Nattalie would more than likely not make it to Christmas, as the tumours were rapidly reoccurring even with radiotherapy. These tumours didn’t want to die and they left her in such a weakened state that she was soon re-admitted to hospital.

“They continued with radiotherapy to zap the tumour and improve her quality of life for a short time but we were told to prepare for the worst and start looking at end of life options for Nattalie.

“She wasn’t aware of the true extent of her illness at this point but she liked the idea of spending time at Rainbows Hospice in Loughborough. She didn’t know what exactly that meant, or if she did she never spoke of it, but in the end she didn’t make it that far.”

Coming to the End

Louise and her family wanted to make Nattalie’s last few weeks as special as possible.

Nattalie with some Leicester Tiger's rugby players

Nattalie with some Leicester Tiger’s rugby players

“On the 4th December 2011, some of the Leicester Tigers players visited Leicester Royal Infirmary to show their support for the ‘Our Space Appeal’. I had never seen her smile so much. Her passion for the team and rugby had only recently started to shine, so it felt nice to see my influence finally rubbing off.

“Nine days later, we had a little make-over and photoshoot day in her hospital room. She was far too weak to go anywhere, especially now that the tumour had started to compress on one of her leg nerves. It was a wonderful day and she looked truly beautiful. By the next day however, the pain had increased so much that in the evening Nattalie was heavily sedated on morphine and we knew it was only a matter of time.”

Cherishing her Memory

Nattalie sadly died on 18th December 2011 just before 8am, her short struggle with the disease finally over but she lives on in the memories of her friends and family.

On 5th July Louise is taking part in Cancer Research’s Race for Life 2015, a 5k run to raise money towards diagnosis, treating and preventing cancer. The day of the race marks what would have been Nattalie’s 18th birthday, so is especially poignant to Louise and her family.

Louise’s final words are hopeful for the future.

“I lost the most precious person to ever grace my life and for a while life stopped. I forgot the things she taught me, I forgot how to smile. I’m taking part in this race in her memory and by sponsoring me, we can unite and create an army that cancer can’t ignore. By sponsoring me, we will beat cancer.”

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Coping with Cancer is an independent charity which has provided services for anyone, with a cancer diagnosis, including their families and carers living in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland for 33 years. We have a small, but dedicated, team of staff and volunteers who ensure that we deliver a high quality, personalised service to all our clients.

We also operate an ‘open door’ policy, which makes accessing services easy. Patients, carers and family members can refer themselves to us, or referrals can be made by health and social care professionals. The charity will provide support for as long as it’s needed.”

Alicia Wisehall

Alicia Wisehall, Charity Manager – Coping with Cancer

Services include:

  • Counselling
  • Complementary therapy
  • Telephone support
  • Befriending
  • A solicitor’s surgery
  • Drop-in complementary therapy groups around the county

Along with a wide variety of support groups and activities including Walking Group, Yoga and Meditation.

If you need their services, or know someone else who does contact the team now on 0116 223 0055.

Claire Kelleher is from Sarcoma UK, a charity focused on bone and soft tissue cancer.

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“Sarcoma UK is the only cancer charity in the UK focusing on all types of sarcoma. Our mission is to increase knowledge and awareness of sarcoma through ground-breaking programmes that inspire involvement and transform the landscape for everyone affected by sarcoma.”

“Our charity aims are:

  • Initiate change to raise sarcoma awareness and improve standards of treatment and care
  • Seek answers through research
  • Provide support & information for the sarcoma community”

Claire Kelleher, Head of Information and Support for Sarcoma UK.

To sponsor Louise’s race go here – https://www.justgiving.com/TeamTallie/ and for more information about this rare disease go to the Sarcoma UK website. For regional support in Leicestershire and Rutland visit Coping With Cancer who helped Louise’s family in Nattalie’s final weeks.