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Doctors said Ashleigh was a typical lazy teenager – actually she had an aggressive form of cancer
Doctors said Ashleigh was lazy, then said she could be anaemic. She was finally diagnosed after she had an MRI scan following a fallAshleigh has childhood cancer AT/RT which triggered growth of a large brain tumour
13:04 GMT, 25 June 2012
A 17-year-old girl with a rare aggressive cancer was left undiagnosed for six months after doctors mistook her symptoms for 'typical teenager laziness.'
A scan revealed Ashleigh Parks had a large tumour at the base of her brain and her mother Cheryl Watson, 36, was told she only had a 10 per cent chance of survival.
Her condition was so serious she was christened in hospital and her mother and stepfather Damian Parks rushed through an adoption process so that Ashleigh could officially call him 'dad'.
Now her family are celebrating after Ashleigh finally began responding to the treatment. She is well enough to return to school although it will be four years before she is officially in remission.
Ashleigh Parks at home in Doncaster with her mother Cheryl and father Damien. Ashleigh has returned to school
Mr Parks, 28, said: 'We always said that one day I would adopt Ashleigh but her being so ill made us get the ball rolling.
'I am so proud to be her father officially, and not just because she has been so brave, but because she is a wonderful girl and any father would be proud to call her his daughter.
'I was always there for her anyway, but now whatever the future holds she knows she has a dad to turn to.'
Ashleigh was just 16 when her mother first noticed she was unwell in October 2010.
Cheryl said: ‘I know all teenagers like to sleep but Ashleigh was exhausted all the time. She would fall asleep straight after school.
'She used to love shopping and ice skating with her friends but she could barely keep her eyes open to finish her tea.’
Cheryl took her daughter to see their GP but was told Ashleigh was suffering from nothing more than typical teenage laziness.
Ashleigh back at home after treatment: Damien shaved his hair off to make her feel better
Ashleigh, pictured at her christening service held in Royal Doncaster Infirmary. Her weight plummeted during treatment
Ashleigh said: ‘They just said I was a typical teenager and teenagers needed lots of sleep and not to worry.’
Unconvinced, they returned twice with the same concern only to be told the same thing and Ashleigh was prescribed iron tablets as they said she could be anaemic.
It was only in March 2011 six months after first visiting her GP when Ashleigh fell down the stairs in a sleepy daze and her mum rushed her to hospital that doctors discovered the awful truth.
An MRI scan showed a large tumour at the base of her brain and Ashleigh’s mother was told she had a very rare form of childhood cancer called ATRT. There are only a handful of cases diagnosed in the UK each year and around 30 in the U.S.
Doctors explained it was one of the fastest growing tumours with the main symptom being tiredness and lethargy.
‘I was shaking when they told me she only had a ten per cent chance of survival. For months we’d been told she was just a typical teenager and then we’re told she might not pull through.’
Cheryl went to her daughter’s bedside at the Royal Doncaster Infirmary.
‘I told her how poorly she was but she already knew. I couldn’t help breaking down as I held her.’
Two days on Ashleigh was taken to theatre for surgery to remove the tumour.
But surgeons had to abandon the operation because it was too close to her brain stem.
Devastatingly tests showed three more tumours the size of peas dotted down her spinal cord.
They were also too dangerous to remove so Ashleigh would need to start intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Her condition was so serious
Ashleigh with her mother Cheryl before she became ill. Doctors thought she had anaemia
Recovering: Ashleigh at a charity event at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium with her father Damien and brother Marcus
Cheryl was advised to get her daughter baptised by the hospital chaplain. The ceremony took place in May last year.
As her weight plummeted from seven stone to four stone and she was tube fed and Cheryl and Damian spent every day at her bedside.
Damian even gave up his job as a plasterer to be with her every day.
When her hair fell out devoted Damian shaved his off too to make her feel better. Damian also started fundraising and took Ashleigh our in her wheelchair to keep her spirits up.
It was from her hospital bed shortly after she was baptised that Ashleigh asked Damian to adopt her.
He said: ‘I was already her dad but Ashleigh wanted to make it official.
‘The next day we contacted social services and told them we needed their help quickly.’
They agreed to rush it through as quickly as possible and a few weeks on all the forms arrived.
The family went through several rounds of interviews before they received a date for the court hearing earlier this year.
Unfortunately Ashleigh was too sick to attend but Damian and Cheryl rushed straight to her hospital bedside once it was made official in March this year.
Family matters: Ashleigh at home with her parents, half-brother Marcus and half-sister Jessica
Over the next few months Ashleigh fought hard against the cancer and her family were thrilled when doctors said recently she was finally showing signs of responding to treatment against all the odds.
It will be another four years until she is in remission but Ashleigh’s just pleased her hair has started growing back.
Cheryl said: ‘ She is so strong and we are so proud. She’s always been a daddy’s girl but now it’s official.
‘We want other parents to know the signs of this awful cancer because early diagnosis is crucial.
‘We were told she was just being a typical teenager when she was desperately ill with cancer. We could have lost her. Thank God we didn’t.’