Brave Reece Holt has defied the odds by turning up to his first day of school just days after undergoing brain surgery for the third time.
Smiling proudly in his new uniform the 11-year-old was determined not to let brain cancer get the better of him as he started his first year at Lancaster Royal Grammar School.
However a few days earlier Reece was rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool for an emergency brain operation after being told his cancer had returned.
The return of his cancer didn’t put life on hold, Reece wanted to show it who’s boss – and he did.
Determined Reece was recovering at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool on Sunday and by Monday morning he was all smiles as he donned his new high school uniform.
The 11-year-old from Overton gave it his all to take part in his first day at Lancaster Royal Grammar School after his operation on Thursday.
“You could take the strongest, toughest man in the world right now and put him next to Reece and he would seem weak in comparison,” said mum, Rachel O’Neil.
“There is no way cancer was stopping this boy walking into Lancaster Royal Grammar School for his first day.
“Believe me when I say I have yet to meet a child fighting cancer who doesn’t have this sheer strength and determination of a true warrior, my son is my hero.”
Reece was diagnosed in May last year after suddenly collapsing at home.
The Star Wars fan was told he had an Anaplastic Astrocytoma, an extremely rare malignant tumour that affects only about 10 children a year.
In a space of a few hours the Holt family watched their happy active boy go onto life support as he battled a bleed on the brain.
After going through radiotherapy and 12 chemotherapy cycles of chemotherapy Reece was on the mend, organising charity events and giving talks to organisations.
He spent the summer holidays playing with younger brother Callum and preparing for his big step towards high school.
But last week the family had to face heartbreak once again after a routine MRI brain scan last Tuesday showed devastating results.
“It was very upsetting and heartbreaking but when you have got a child you can’t show that, you can’t fall apart,” said Rachel.
“We have to get on with it, both of my children need me.”
The scan showed big changes in Reece’s brain and a another tumour, smaller to the first one last year.
Doctors have taken a biopsy of the tumour and are now looking to see whether Reece is suitable for clinical trials and other methods.
But Rachel says the future is uncertain as there is no funding for a second line of treatment.
She said: “As far as I am aware there is no government budget for paediatric cancer research.
“It is something that needs to change.”
Reece has been described as “a tough cookie” by his mum and nothing has put him down.
“Reece is taking everything in his stride, he hasn’t cried once,” said Rachel.
“The nursers tried to get a cannula in his veins but they were swollen up from previous chemotherapy treatment, it took them quite a few attempts and he was lacking on pain relief but he was just making jokes about the fact that his veins were useless.
“Callum told me he is scared to go over to Reece because he will cry and doesn’t want to upset him and I told Reece and Reece just went straight over to him and hugged him and Callum was balling his eyes out.
“Callum is scared but here is here with us this time, always by his brothers side.”
Since his diagnosis hero Reece has captured the hearts and support of the community.
In December last year Reece, a former pupil at St Helens C of E Primary School, Overton, took home Primary School of the Year Award at The Visitor and Lancaster Guardian Education Awards.
Then in May 2017, a year on from diagnosis, Reece was crowned Young Achiever at the Visitor’s Sunshine Awards.
Reece won the award because of his charity work raising thousands for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
At the awards the youngster was praised by Morecambe FC manager, Jim Bentley, who said Reece was “absolutely fantastic.”
The awards come after his dedication in helping other children with cancer whilst also going through the disease himself.
Team Reece, a group which aims to raise awareness of children’s cancer and set up to supply holidays for children fighting cancer, was created by Rachel after Reece’s diagnosis.
“Team Reece is working on raising awareness and we will continue working on that no matter what the outcome is,” said Rachel.
“That’s why we are doing it so other kids don’t have to go through what we are going through.”
When the news hit that Reece’s cancer had returned the support from the community returned too.
“After we announced the news on the Team Reece Facebook page everyone changed their profile picture to our logo, it moved me to tears,” said Rachel.
“Reece said he couldn’t believe so many people cared, they do care and it cheered him up.”
Team Reece is on its way to becoming a charity, holding various fundraisers and appearing at popular events such as the Morecambe Carnival.
The charity also held its first event, Heyshambury, which attracted more than 1,200 people to Heysham Cricket Club.
Morecambe band Twenty Four Seven, Broken 3 Ways, Blind Panic and Lancaster bands the Glass Poppies, Dance Puppet Dance and Sold To The Sky performed.
Thousands was raised from the event for Team Reece and St John’s Hospice.
Reece’s first taste of charity challenges began when he shaved his head with brother Callum for The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Charity, where he received radiotherapy treatment.
Callum has also done his fair share of fundraising on behalf of his brother.
The ten-year-old took part in the 5k obstacle challenge Badass Mucker in June this year, and was awarded a solid gold medal for taking part in the adult course instead of the children’s.
“It has been a lot to take on for Callum and he has been such a big support for Reece,” said Rachel.
“Callum absolutely rose to the challenge as Reece wasn’t well enough to do more than a couple of obstacles.
“For an adult it’s tough going, for a ten-year-old it was unbelievably hard but Callum refused to give up and has proved he’s one Badass.”
Meanwhile Rachel has backed a petition from charity CLIC Sargent calling for an urgent review of the government assistance available to help families like hers cope with the extra travel costs a cancer diagnosis brings.
Team Reece has also set up their own lottery.
Every week someone will win £25, £1000 or £25,000 by helping Reece realise his dream of supplying a holiday home for children fighting cancer to use to escape the never-ending hospital visits.
Team Reece need to hit their target of £18,000 to be able to buy a static caravan and site fees for families who have children with cancer so they can enjoy holidays away during difficult times.
People who choose to enter the lottery for £1 a week via direct debit or cheque can win prizes and help towards fundraising at the same time.
Apply via www.unitylottery.co.uk/charity/display/team-reece.
Team Reece are planning more funraising events in the coming months.
Reece’s family, Callum, Rachel, dad Chris Holt and stepdad, Lewis Macfarlane were all present during his stay at Ronald McDonald House, Alder Hey and would like to thank everybody for their support. To keep up to date with Reece’s journey you can visit www.facebook.com/teamreeceholt.