A YOUNG man whose life has been devastated by cancer for the past three years is being given a very special day out tomorrow.
Jack Meeks, 19, will be taking to the skies in a stunt plane at RAF College Cranwell and given VIP treatment throughout the day, courtesy of national charity The Willow Foundation.
The teenager was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2009 and, as well as regular stays and bouts of chemotherapy at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, he has also suffered appendicitis and repeated blood clots.
Jack, who lives in Peregrine Place, Bourne, with his dad David and the youngest of his four brothers, Joe, is a former pupil of Bourney Abbey Primary School and The Robert Manning College.
He began feeling ill during his last year at school and had lost a total of 3st in weight by the time he had begun a construction course at New College Stamford.
He said: “I was getting a lot of pain in my shoulders and thought I had pulled some muscles. I went to the doctor six or seven times and was given blood tests for things like glandular fever.
“My mum and dad kept telling me to go back for more tests but we didn’t have a clue really what was wrong and I just kept trying to fight through it.”
Things came to a head when he went home one night and collapsed and was rushed by ambulance to Peterborough District Hospital where he stayed for a week and had more tests.
“They thought it might be swine flu as that was going round at the time and then leukaemia was diagnosed and things become a bit of a blur after that.
“I was in Addenbrookes for chemotherapy for six weeks. The first three weeks were awful. My hair began to fall out slowly, it took months, and my family had to travel every day to see me.”
Jack’s mum Hayley and his brothers Tom, 25, Ben, 22 and Sam 18, as well as his dad, other relatives and friends suffered months of worry. Jack began to get infection after infection and has had seven blood clots, the latest is still in his abdomen and he takes blood-thinning medication daily to help disperse it.
“The doctors were really worried about me at one time but in the last 12 months I have only been in hospital for the odd infection and in the last six months hardly anything has gone wrong. I have put some weight back on and the doctors are pleased with me. I can’t fault Addenbrookes, they have been brilliant,” he said.
He is now feeling better and hopes to be well enough to go back to college next year.
Although not free of leukaemia, his current course of treatment ends on December 21 and he is hoping the prognosis will be good. He is already feeling well enough to go out with his friends and to the gym.
“The Teenage Cancer Trust runs Oasis, a new centre for young people aged 16-24 who are on the cancer ward at Addenbrookes. One of their volunteers was chatting to me and I said I was really interested in the RAF and they put my name forward to The Willow Foundation for consideration.”
The family has also received some help from the Macmillan Cancer Support and Clic Sargent charities.
Jack is being taken to RAF College Cranwell tomorrow by his friend Oliver Edwards, also 19.
“We get a tour of the base and I get to go up in the air with a stunt pilot and possibly take the controls. We also have a dinner at the end. I can’t wait, I’m sure it will be really good,” Jack said this week.
The Willow Foundation was set up by television presenter and former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson and his wife Megs after their daughter died of cancer at the age of 31.
It provides special days out for seriously ill young adults aged 16-40. The RAF College Cranwell day is a first for the charity and will cater for nine young people and their chosen companions.
In the last 12 years Willow has arranged more than 8,500 special days.
Sandy Sandilands, Officer Commanding Base Support Wing at RAF College Cranwell says: “We are delighted to be able to welcome the Willow Foundation to enjoy an aviation experience here at the oldest military aviation academy in the world.
“We look forward to providing a unique, exciting and challenging experience for these young people and their families.”