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Bradley Lowery's mum tells of her fears after falling pregnant with baby girl

Chronicle Live logo Chronicle Live 03/07/2022 Phil Cardy & Catherine Furze

The mother of Bradley Lowery has told of her fears when she fell pregnant again last year.

Speaking nearly five years after her six-year-old son's death, Gemma Lowery admitted she was terrified that the rare form of cancer that claimed her football-mad son might strike her family again.

Little County Durham lad Bradley Lowery won the nation’s hearts as he bravely battled brain cancer before he died on July 7, 2017, in the arms of his mum and dad, Carl. Gemma told The Mirror : “People remember Bradley as a happy, smiley little boy. He raised so much awareness of childhood cancer. People had never heard of neuroblastoma. Now they’re talking about it."

The Blackhall Colliery couple's fears that the heart-breaking disease might strike again made them reluctant to have any more children - until tragedy almost struck the couple again. Electrician Carl had a serious accident at work that Gemma says left him “lucky to be alive”. He ended up in hospital for two weeks and off work for a year.

Read more: Tributes paid to 'happy and cheeky' North Shields six-year-old who died from incurable cancer

“We’d said we wouldn’t have another,” says Gemma. “The thought of having another baby. The anxiety. Thinking ‘what if?’ I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a huge worry. But you can’t live your life worrying. One day Carl just said, ‘Can we have another baby?’” She knew then it was the right thing to do – and Gracie-Mae was born weighing 8lb last November – and perfectly healthy.

Gemma Lowery in Sunderland top outside the charity's hq © newcastle chronicle Gemma Lowery in Sunderland top outside the charity's hq

“We both absolutely adore Gracie-Mae. She’s such a happy baby. We can see Brad’s smile in her. But she will never replace him. She is her own little person. Bradley's birthday is coming up, he would have been 11. You ask yourself what he would be like now. He would have loved his little sister. He loved babies. In the hospital he would hold babies and they would be as big as him.”

Gracie-Mae even has her own Sunderland kit, just like her brother who struck up a special friendship with the club’s star striker Jermain Defoe as he won the nation’s hearts, battling rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma. Bradley became a mascot for his beloved Sunderland and in the months before his death, leading England out at Wembley alongside his hero Jermain.

A huge fundraising appeal raised more than £1.3m to send Bradley to New York for antibody treatment, but in December 2016 doctors found his tumour had grown, and told Gemma and Carl, both 38, he had just months to live. “He went through all those horrible treatments, but he has helped other children,” says Gemma. “He was always smiling, he’s shown it’s not all sorrow and pain. I miss everything, the cuddles, the laughter. I went from Brad being with me 24 hours a day to him being gone.

“He made people aware that children do get cancer and die. He gave it a ­platform, it’s not something that people like to talk about. He changed the perception of childhood cancer and we are here to continue that legacy. I’m quite a positive person, hopefully I’ve had my share of bad luck in life. Now Carl’s a stay-at-home dad . And he loves it,” says Gemma who campaigns tirelessly for the Bradley Lowery Foundation, which has raised £7m and helped 400 children.

Gemma is particularly excited about the launch of Super Brad’s Pad – a holiday retreat in Scarborough for sick children and their families, which she hopes will be built next year.

“I remember going on holiday to a caravan with Brad. But there wasn’t room for the whole family,” she says. “This will be somewhere for everyone, mum, dad, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. Somewhere to have fun, make special memories. Hopefully it will be built for next year. Then over 100 families a year will be able to get away for a few days free of charge.”

But the Foundation’s main aim remains campaigning for better and safer treatments for child cancer. Its fundraising suffered through the pandemic but things are starting to move again. Gemma said: “We are starting to get back on the fundraising bandwagon, but it’s really difficult due to Covid and the cost of living, meaning people are giving less and less to charity. She estimated they had lost out on £200,000 of funding over the past two years.

Helping sick children through the pandemic was also a challenge: “Getting children to New York for treatment was a huge headache. For some it was a matter of life and death.

“We also had to start paying for private scans because the NHS was so focused on Covid. These could cost up to £20,000 a time. The hospital in New York needed these scans every three months to look for relapses."

She recalls taking one youngster to Charlotte, in Michigan, for treatment in the pandemic. “We needed embassy visas at £160 per person, Covid tests before and during the stay, even though we were only there for three days, and then we had to quarantine for 14 days when we got back. It was so stressful for the family.”

Gemma says: “There are treatments abroad that we would like to see here. Imagine taking a child abroad for up to three years of treatment. If it was available here it would save time, money and stress.”

The charity has provided funding for research into three forms of cancer – neuroblastoma, which develops from neuroblasts – nerve cells left behind after a baby’s development in the womb; Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone or soft tissue cancer, and diffuse midline glioma, a high-grade brain tumour in children.

Gemma says: “The treatments abroad could be available here. We need to get them through the trial system. But it’s slow progress and we have children that need treatment now.”

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