Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Welwyn Garden City youngster Zach's brave battle
PUBLISHED: 21:48 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 25 September 2019
A Welwyn Garden City mum has shared her brave son's story to raise awareness of childhood cancer.
Seeing a happy, smiling Zachary today, you would never know how much the plucky Welwyn Garden City youngster has been through in his short life.
Born March 5, 2016, Zach was an apparently healthy baby, but at just five weeks old he was admitted to hospital.
Now aged three, the son of Panshanger couple Peter and Hayley Zipfell was diagnosed with 'infantile fibrosarcoma', a tumour that forms in fibrous (connective) tissue.
Mum Hayley, who is campaigning to raise awareness of childhood cancer, takes up Zach's story.
"I noticed his left thigh was slightly swollen," said Hayley. "We went straight to Lister A&E and were admitted for a week whilst they ran tests.
"We were then transferred to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge.
"The next two months were spent having many tests, scans and biopsies, and at just three months old, the unimaginable happened; my perfect little boy was diagnosed with cancer.
"We immediately started chemotherapy in order to shrink the tumour in preparation for removal at Birmingham Children's Hospital.
"During the summer of 2016, when I should have been showing my new baby his new world, we spent most of our time living between Lister Hospital and Addenbrooke's as Zach was incredibly unwell.
"It was horrific watching my beautiful baby boy in so much pain and fading away before my eyes.
"I would have done anything to take away his pain."
Unfortunately chemotherapy was unsuccessful. Not only did it make young Zach very ill, the tumour in his thigh grew to the size of an adult's fist.
At six month old, chemotherapy was stopped and Zach was admitted to Addenbrooke's to gain weight in preparation for major surgery.
Hayley said: "On September 29, 2016, we handed our son to the team at Birmingham Children's Hospital and were told that the future was uncertain."
Zach's parents were told that their son should survive the surgery providing everything went to plan, but there was no guarantee they could save his leg.
"All I wanted was for my baby to wake up after, the rest was a bonus," said Hayley.
"Eight agonising hours later, we got to see Zach again. He was wired up to many machines, bloated and in a hip spica, but they had saved his leg - and most importantly his life.
"The huge tumour had been completely removed, albeit with his entire left quad muscle, and a plastic surgeon had moved and cut some other leg muscles in the hope that they would give him some sort of movement.
"Within a few hours Zach amazed everyone by wiggling his toes. At that point I knew my strong boy would achieve anything and everything.
"We owe so much to those surgeons and doctors. I am eternally grateful for all they did."
After a long road to recovery, Zach took his first steps at 18 months.
Mum Hayley said: "Zach is now a very happy, healthy three-year-old, who although has to be a little more careful than other children due to the weakness of having no quad muscle in one leg, he can walk, run, jump, climb, swim, play football and do almost anything he sets his mind to.
"To say I am a proud mummy is the biggest understatement.
"People often say they can't believe how strong we all were throughout, but Zach was the strong one - he kept us all going and if he wasn't giving up, neither were we!"
Zach now has follow-up MRIs every six months for signs of recurrence. Hayley said: "The worry is there constantly, but we are so lucky.
"There are many, many more children who never get to do all the things that Zach has got to do - start nursery, go on holidays, ride a bike etc and enjoy being a child."
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Hayley is doing her bit to make more people aware of childhood cancer.
She has persuaded Welwyn Hatfield Council to turn the Welwyn Garden City Coronation Fountain gold on Tuesday, September 24.
The Campus East Clock Tower on The Campus roundabout in WGC, and the Arcade lights in Hatfield are also due to be lit gold for the day.
Hayley said: "When cancer hits anyone it is awful and life-changing. When it affects a child, it is unimaginable.
"It affects the entire family and destroys lives and threatens to take the future of an innocent child that has never had a chance to live.
"It is a horrific thing to go through and there should be so much more awareness about it.
"You never think that this will happen to you, this sort of thing happens to other people, but that is simply not true.
"There are many children and families within our towns, our county, who we met in hospital and who are unfortunately going to experience some form of what we have in the future."
Hayley added: "September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We all know what the pink ribbon stands for breast cancer, but there is far less awareness of what the gold ribbon stands for, and this is simply not good enough.
"Our children are the future, we need to ensure they get a future!"
Hayley has set up a fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Hayley-Zipfell with all donations going to Children with Cancer UK.