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When Arianna Soleri was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer aged five, her family had no idea their hunt for a cure could end in New York.
The brave youngster has endured 16 months of gruelling treatment since her tumour was found in November 2021.
Now, her parents Abigail and Chris are fundraising “an astronomical amount of money” so she can join a study of an experimental vaccine developed in the US.
The Daily Express and Solving Kids’ Cancer UK are calling on the Government to help children access the potentially life-saving jab here.
Abigail said: “There’s no guarantee – as far as we know, the vaccine could be made of water. But it’s something we will have no regrets on.
“If it reduces the relapse rate by even just one per cent then it’s worth every penny.”
Persistent back pain was the first sign that something was wrong with Arianna, who turned seven last week.
She was taken to A&E eight times in one week but sent home with antibiotics as doctors struggled to uncover the cause.
Abigail eventually refused to leave the hospital until a consultant ordered a kidney scan and heart ultrasound.
She recalled: “That was when they said those awful words: ‘We’ve found a mass on your daughter’s left kidney, and any mass we call a tumour.’
“That whole week was just a whirlwind, a complete shock to the system. It was the absolute worst week of our lives.”
Further tests were scheduled to pinpoint the type of cancer and Abigail desperately researched the possibilities.
She said: “When they said the next day that they suspected it was neuroblastoma, that hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew how awful and gruelling the treatment would be.”
During chemotherapy and immunotherapy, Arianna experienced horrific side effects including extreme nausea, lack of appetite and hair loss.
After the spread of her disease was halted and her tumour shrunk from 7.5 to 2.2cm, it was removed in January.
Arianna is now having regular scans to find out whether she is in remission. If so, Abigail and Chris plan to take her to New York.
High risk neuroblastoma has only a 50/50 survival rate and around one in five children successfully treated later relapse.
The vaccine, developed at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, aims to cut the risk of recurrence by training the immune system to recognise and attack cancerous cells.
The family, of Hertfordshire, has raised two thirds of the £350,000 needed to cover the costs with the support of friends including EastEnders star Natalie Cassidy.
Abigail said going for the jab was “a no-brainer”. She explained: “I never want to look back and regret anything.
“I want to give Arianna every single chance that we can and if that means trying to raise an astronomical amount of money to get this done, then we will do that.”
Our Back Britain to Beat Childhood Cancer crusade is asking the Government to provide the £10-15 million needed to fund the UK and European arm of a transatlantic trial.
This would allow children to access the vaccine through the NHS while experts gather robust data to prove whether it is effective.
We are calling on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to meet families affected by neuroblastoma to understand how they could benefit.
Abigail said the logistics of taking Arianna to the US were daunting, but they have no choice. She added: “We have three younger children and the youngest is one year old, so going to the US several times would be extremely challenging.
“My husband and I both want to be there so we will have to up and move with the kids. We don’t know how we would do it but we will figure it out.
“It’s extremely important for everyone to back this because it could potentially save children’s lives. I just don’t understand why it isn’t available in the UK.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are laser focused on fighting cancer on all fronts – prevention, diagnosis, treatment, research and funding – so we can deliver the best possible care to patients.
“We want the UK to lead the way in delivering the next generation of treatments and cures and last week we delivered a £10 million state-of-the-art facility to develop cutting edge technology to better treat cancers such as neuroblastoma.
“Alongside this we are taking a vaccine taskforce style approach for cancer research to develop new immune-based cancer therapies, including cancer vaccines, which are targeted to a patient’s specific cancer.”
You can support Arianna’s fundraising here.
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