One of my most pleasurable duties in recent days was to present an award to Amanda and Ray Mifsud, who set up the Ashford-based charity “Abbie’s Army” in 2012 after they lost their 6-year-old daughter to a rare brain cancer.
The award was part of the Prime Minister’s Points of Light programme which is given to outstanding individual volunteers. Amanda and Ray are the 2,145th and 2,146th Points of Light.
This is hugely deserved. In its 11 years of existence Abbie’s Army has given more than £1.5million of funding towards research projects, including clinical trials at Great Ormond Street Hospital and a research post at the Institute of Cancer Research. For a small charity this is an extraordinary achievement.
The money raised is very necessary precisely because this particular type of cancer is so rare. It is called DIPG and is a highly malignant brain tumour located in the brain stem which almost exclusively affects children.
On average forty children a year develop this terrible condition, and even though the survival rate for many childhood cancers has improved markedly in recent years, this sadly does not apply to DIPG. Overall the survival rate for children with cancer is 83%, but fewer than 1% of children with DIPG survive for five years after their diagnosis.
What this tells us is that further research is urgently necessary and of course all research in this area is very expensive and will need to be funded over a period of many years. This is why Abbie’s Army is such an important organisation nationally as well as locally.
Amanda and Ray have been inspirational in their work over the past decade. Abbie’s Army is not just a fitting memorial to the daughter they lost but a signal of what love and energy can achieve.