When Owen Jenkinson’s leg started hurting after an Easter family gathering in 2022, he didn’t think much of it.
He’d always been an active teenager and put it down to the kickabout he’d enjoyed with friends from church at the picnic that day.
But the pain persisted, even after he was taken to hospital. And after a series of tests, doctors found the true, devastating cause.
Owen’s pain wasn’t down to football, but Ewing’s Sarcoma – a rare cancer that appears in the bones or in the soft tissue around them.
Owen, who’s just turned 15, tells Metro.co.uk how he loved having an active lifestyle before he was diagnosed at 13, and would spend time going to the gym, running, and playing football.
‘I did a parkrun every weekend,’ he recalls, ‘and enjoyed playing for my junior football team, AFC Pogmoor under 14s.’
Remembering the day he first noticed symptoms, he adds: ‘I woke up around 1.30am on Easter Monday with a sharp pain in my leg. We thought that it must be a pulled muscle or ligament from playing football.’
But the pain continued, even waking him up in the early hours of the following morning.
His mum Andrea, 51, took the teen to Rotherham General Hospital A&E, where he was given morphine and paracetamol by the doctors, but it was to no avail.
‘One of the doctors thought that my leg looked bigger from one angle,’ Owen says, ‘so he suspected something wasn’t right.
‘They did an X-Ray and an MRI, and they told us that they suspected that I could have a growth, and it could be cancer, but maybe not.
‘I was booked in two weeks later to attend Birmingham Children’s Hospital for a bone biopsy.
‘Two weeks later I got the news I was dreading when I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a bone cancer, in my left femur.’
Owen, who lives with his parents and six siblings in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, bravely decided he wanted to be kept informed of everything regarding his treatment.
‘I thought it might be helpful for my biology GCSE to learn as much as I could about it,’ he says.
‘At first, attending hospital and meeting and seeing other young people with cancer and receiving treatment was scary and frightening because I could see what I had to go through.
‘I had to have nine rounds of chemo at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in Ward Six. I didn’t mind losing my hair or my eyelashes, but I was adamant that I didn’t want a feeding tube.
‘My dad said that I needed to get as much food into me as possible to prevent me from having a feeding tube and my parents made sure that I had a supply of KFC and Wagamamas.
‘I noticed my taste in food changed, and I was obsessed with salted pretzels. My parents would go around the shops to make sure they could find some for me.’
While Owen was at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, he was introduced to Jemma, a Youth Support Coordinator working with the charity Teenage Cancer Trust.
She supported not just Owen, but his family too – which consists of primary school teaching assistant mum Andrea, decarbonisation advisor dad Bill, 48, and siblings Megan, 25, Ciara, 23, Will, 18, and twins Isabelle and Eleanor, 11.
‘Jemma is really easy to chat to,’ says Owen, ‘and I enjoyed meeting her. She made it clear that she was there for anything that I needed.
‘I could contact her if I wanted some nice snacks or if I wanted to speak to someone outside of the family. I felt able to chat to her about all kinds of things, from what I felt I was missing out on, to how cancer was affecting my mental health.
‘I told her that I was OK but that I’d had times when I was worried about whether I would survive.
‘Just having someone to talk to really helped. We had general chats too to take my mind off treatment, and we talked about funny stuff to distract me.’
But not long into his treatment, Owen and his family were given more bad news.
‘They did a full body MRI scan two rounds into my chemo,’ he recalls, ‘and they discovered that the cancer had metastasized.
‘It had gone from my left femur to my left shin, pelvis, hips, and both of my lungs. My chances of survival suddenly got worse.’
Even through all this turmoil and uncertainty, Owen’s family felt it was important for him to be as much of a normal teen as possible.
‘Mum made sure that I could still see my friends when I was well enough and made sure I could attend a couple of parties,’ Owen says.
‘Even in my lowest times of treatment, it was important to still be a teenager.
‘My best mate Finlay found it tough but stepped up and been a great support to me by just being normal. Still being able to laugh and joke, with nothing off limits, is important.’
After the nine rounds of chemo were finished, Owen had to be moved to the Leeds General Infirmary for an additional two more rounds, and then spent six weeks having 30 sessions of radiotherapy at St James’ Hospital.
‘The radiotherapy left me with painful red burns like sunburn,’ Owen says.
‘I managed to complete my treatment on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas at home. My aunties and uncles ensured that Christmas was such a special celebration.
‘We hired our local village hall, and I spent the day partying with my brother, sisters, and cousins.
‘The treatment was tough and went on for seven months, but compared to some people who we saw who had cancer types like leukaemia, I felt lucky that I had a sharp short intense treatment plan.’
By the following February, doctors determined to find out whether the treatment had worked – and finally, Owen got some good news.
‘I remember getting the news that all my tumour sites had become inactive,’ he says. ‘I just burst out crying with tears of joy, happiness, and relief.
‘Everyone cried including mum and dad, friends and family. It showed me how much all this meant to so many people.
‘The words that always stick with me from that day were when the doctor said: “Right Owen, go and get on with the rest of your life.’
While he’s easing himself back into school – with Jemma’s help – and playing football, Owen plans to carry on with new hobbies that helped him keep busy and bond with his father while he was undergoing treatment.
‘I quickly decided that I didn’t want to be sitting around on my phone or playing Xbox the whole time, as that would have got me down,’ Owen tells us. ‘We started to look at what I could do, and I got into playing pool with my dad as that was something which I could do while I was on my crutches.
‘It’s probably not something I would have thought of if I didn’t have cancer, and it was nice to have that time with my dad. It’s become our thing now.
‘I also started to learn to play golf once I was off my crutches and that really helped with my physical and mental health.’
Now, Owen says that, even though it was hard, his cancer journey helped him get a new outlook on life.
‘Although I missed out on some schooling and my social life suffered while I was having treatment, I’m grateful in a way that I had cancer as I learned about lots of new things, and I’ve matured,’ he explains.
‘It makes me look at things differently, and I don’t worry as much about the little things.’
Teenage Cancer Trust nurses and youth support workers helped Owen get through his ordeal. For more information about cancer in the young or to donate please visit www.teenagecancertrust.org.
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