SUFFOLK- Teenager Sophie Ellis is thought to be the only teenager in the UK for a generation, to have developed a rare cancer in the lung. After valiantly fighting the disease, doctors told her this week she had just months to live. Rebecca Lefort met the girl determined to still chase her dream.
Young actress Sophie Ellis isn’t your average teenager.
Two years ago she became a medical anomaly when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, because she was thought to be the only British teenager to have developed the disease in her lung in the last 30 years.
She has endured an operation to remove her right lung, and painful courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy since the diagnosis in 2005.
It was only days ago that the 15-year-old was happily telling friends and family that she’d apparently beaten the odds, and seemed to be recovering from the cancer.
But then on Tuesday an MRI scan revealed what nobody wanted to see. Doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge saw several spots on her lung, marking the cancer’s return.
Her dad Andy, of Straight Road, Battisford, said “The cancer has returned.”
The prognosis isn’t good – the doctors have told us it could be months, there’s nothing more they can do. The medics have run out of ideas.
But Sophie’s not treating it that way. She has faith, like we do.
She’s fine in herself, she went back to school on Wednesday afternoon, and she’s vowing to fight on.
Sophie now has to choose how much radiotherapy to receive, to keep the cancer at bay although nothing can get rid of it now. She is not in any pain, but if it does develop she can take strong painkillers to carry on her aim of living life to the fullest.
She remains determined to fulfill a dream of performing on a West End stage, and said, “I’m not planning to go anywhere soon, so if there’s someone out there who wants to give me an acting job, I am right here!”
She added, “There was a time when I was ready to go. I’d been through quite a lot, eight months of chemotherapy and pain and major surgery and I thought is it ever going to work?”
“But I didn’t give up, and I’ve been called “miracle child” by my teachers and friends.”
Today Sophie is back at Stowmarket High School studying for her GCSEs, and thanks to various children’s charities she’s had the opportunity to meet some of her heroes including her heart throb, the “wonderful” David Tennant.
Sophie, whose stage name is “Sophie McDonald”, added, “Being ill has made me stronger. I won’t say I was a weakling before but at the beginning of my treatment I was really upset and scared and as the months passed I seemed to get used to it and it was second nature.”
“Acting was great though, because you can act and be a character, a different person, and forget everything.”
Sophie is currently rehearsing for performances in Oskar Foxtrot’s production of 1066 – A tale of two halves, being staged in Ipswich in July. See www.oskarfoxtrot.org.uk
Would you like to pay a tribute to Sophie’s determination? Have you overcome a life-threatening disease? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail email@example.com.
See Sophie talking about her treatment at www.eveningstar.co.uk/features.
The family first noticed something was wrong when Sophie started complaining of pain in her right side.
On August 9, 2005, doctors at Ipswich Hospital told the family Sophie was probably suffering from lymphoma but it was later confirmed to be mesothelioma. They discovered that most people who develop the disease do not live beyond three years after diagnosis.
They treated her with a combination of drugs and in March last year she had her right lung removed in a potentially dangerous operation.
She said, “It was pretty weird finding out that it was special, that is was so unusual. But I was pretty worried because they didn’t know quite how to treat it. Addenbrooke’s gave me a concoction of different cancer treatments – they knew what they were doing but it was all new to them because it was so rare.”
Now she says her insides are “higgledy-piggledy”, only half of her chest goes up and down as she breaths as she relies on only one lung, and her liver and heart have moved around inside her body as a result of the organ removal.
She added, “It was hard to get used to having only one lung it feels lopsided, but my singing helped with my breathing.”
Recent CT scans at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge had not picked up traces of the cancer but she was suffering unexplained pain.
Liz Darlison, a nurse consultant with the National Macmillan Mesothelioma Resource Center, said, “It’s very very rare in teenagers. In the last three years I’m only aware of three or four getting it and they were in the abdomen.”
She added, “For any victim it’s important to harness hope. Maintaining a positive outlook when faced with this disease is the biggest challenge.”