For almost a decade parents Lisa and Donald Easton have watched their younger child and only daughter Ashlee undergo a barrage of treatment in a bid to overcome her cancer.
Over the last 20 months with the world in a the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, they have had to make difficult decisions and spend weeks apart, while the teenager underwent life-saving procedures in the United States.
For the Eastons lockdown often left Donald and son Jayden, 17, living in the family home in Kestrel Drive, Brightons while Lisa and Ashlee were on the other side of the Atlantic either in a hospital ward or a hotel room in New York, desperately hoping that the vital treatment, paid for by the community across Falkirk district, would go ahead.
While there have been reports of people in Scotland undergoing long waits for their covid vaccinations and boosters, Ashlee has faced several journeys of over 3200 miles to get what mum Lisa described as “basically a jag in her leg”.
But this week there has been a collective sigh of relief as both mum and daughter have returned home with the news that the treatment is finally over and they are keeping their fingers crossed that it will keep the cancer from returning.
The family’s torment began in February 2012 when six-year-old Ashlee was a pupil at Wallacestone Primary School.
When she became unwell they never imagined that she would eventually be diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that affects 100 children in the UK every year.
From the outset the community has rallied to help the family in whatever way they could.
Classmates at the primary school raised thousands of pounds for the family to go on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Disney World in Florida when she recovered.
A former Camelon resident and now a successful New York businessman Bart McDade, heard of the appeal and pledged $5000 to the Wallacestone pupils’ fund, which raised over £10,000 in the end.
However, the quiet schoolgirl’s recovery was hit by setbacks with two relapses, in 2016 and then again two years later.
The gruelling rounds of treatment began again and as she watched her daughter undergoing the radiotherapy and a stell cem transplant, Lisa was researching other treatments which are not currently available in the UK but offered elsewhere.
Lisa explained: “I was desperately researching everything and there were two options that I found. When I spoke to her consultant he wasn’t sure about the first but when I mentioned the bivalent vaccine he said that he would support us if we wanted to go done that route."
In very simple terms, the vaccine has two antigens and the aim is that it causes the patient's immune system to make antibodies against them which in turn attack the cancer.
Although this was positive news, there were two major drawbacks: the first was this clinical trial was being carried out at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York and, secondly, the cost was in the region of £239,000.
Undaunted the family, their friends, Ashlee’s classmates at Braes High School and, as Lisa acknowledged, complete strangers, rallied round with a host of fundraising events in a bid to meet the target.
By the start of March 2020 they had raised over half the money and heard she had an appointment to get the vaccine.
Flights were booked and the family were preparing to fly out when they received a “devastating” email from a New York clinic saying due to coronavirus they were no longer accepting new patients from abroad and Ashlee’s appointment had been cancelled.
But when they saw a “window of opportunity” to get her to the United States before the shut down of flights they decided to go.
Fast forward to December 2021 with scans showing no sign of cancer and Lisa admitted that it had been a rollercoaster with the pandemic restrictions adding to the stress of Ashlee’s condition.
The youngster received her first vaccine on March 26, 2020 but during that initial stay in the Big Apple they were effectively stuck there for nine weeks as restrictions took hold on either side of the Atlantic.
Lisa added: “It was really difficult. And since then we’ve had to go to London to get visas and now have to have all the tests which have added more expense.
"It’s tough when you are on the other side of the world, sitting by her hospital bed with little contact with anyone apart from the medical staff who are of course, very busy.
"But we’ve come through it, including the difficult time when her lymphocyte count was too low for Ashlee to get the vaccine.
"However, it’s a long way to go for what is a jag in her leg. Hopefully, the treatment will eventually be offered in the UK.”
Ashlee, who is in S4 at Braes High, and hopes to go to college to study beauty, said she was glad the treatment was finally over, “especially as I don’t like flying”.
Lisa said: “We can never thank everyone enough for all that they have done. Her treatment was only possible through the kindness and generosity of them all.
"Braes High raised around £40,000 and Donald’s employers at Ochil Timber Products in Denny have been very supportive, contributing and giving him as much time off as he needed to be with us.
"Thanks also to Solving Kids’ Cancer charity which arranged our trips to New York and the St George’s Society of New York dealt with our transfers and looked after us when we were there.”
Last Christmas Lisa and Ashlee spent Christmas alone in New York but this December 25 they are looking forward to a quiet, family celebration in their own home.