Meet the team – Steph

Meet Steph. She’s training for the London Marathon because ever since her brother, Henry, had a brain tumour at age nine, she’s been passionate about child health research. Keep reading to find out more about why Sparks is important to her.

Steph and her boyfriend, Ryan

Early signs

Steph is the middle child in her family – she has an older sister, Charlotte, and a younger brother, Henry. When Henry was nine, he started having headaches. She tells us: “I remember, for what seemed like months, we had periods where food was skipped out of our diets – no dairy, no cheese, no diet coke (the worst one!), to try and help his headaches, but nothing helped.

When Henry was at their grandparents’ house, their grandpa, a former GP, noticed something behind his eye. Steph’s mum took Henry to hospital and within the day he was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). Steph remembers: “I got a call at school from my mum saying he was at GOSH and that my grandparents would be picking us up. We were meant to go on holiday that day… It was really hard as we didn’t know what exactly was going on. We just knew it was serious.”

Steph, Henry and Charlotte in hospital

In hospital

Henry was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2009 when he was nine years old. Steph says: “Henry’s brain tumour was the size of an orange… that’s what we were told. There were big risks involved with the operation – risks that included him potentially being brain damaged at the end. These were outlined to my parents which was awful to watch.”

While Henry was at GOSH, he had five operations and spent two weeks in intensive care. Steph says: “I remember the first time we went to visit him and we both burst into tears when we walked into the room but Henry didn’t really understand what was going on either, so that we had to try to be really brave for him. It was just all really scary.”
Thankfully, Henry’s treatment was successful and he’s still happy and healthy now, studying at the University of Exeter, where he plays rugby.

Steph, Henry and Charlotte celebrating a birthday

Running for research

Steph feels passionate about child health research, and has done ever since her brother’s treatment. She says: “Henry’s experience at GOSH was a long and painful one, and it made me think about the future of treatments and how it could progress. No nine-year-old, or a child of any age, should have to go through numerous brain operations, weeks in intensive care and the uncertainty of treatment, so I think medical research is so important, to try and improve that.

“I think it’s really important for people to support Sparks because child health research is something that regularly gets overlooked but is critically important. Not every child’s outcome is the same as my brother’s, but child health research can make sure that a lot more outcomes are positive.”

Steph running a half marathon for her training

Why the London Marathon?

“This year I’m turning 25 and thought it would be a great thing to do to celebrate… I’ve never really run before, although I’ve always been sporty, so I knew it would be a HUGE challenge and therefore something I could get a lot of support in and hopefully raise lots of money for Sparks!"

Steph’s boyfriend, Ryan, is running for Sparks with her. She says: “It makes it slightly less daunting because the longer runs I can do with him and we’re both as clueless as each other. We did a half marathon before Christmas (extremely slowly on my part) so we did another one in February to try and get our times up, however, Storm Dennis meant it was more of a mud run than a half marathon!

"And then, of course the disappointment we all felt when the London Marathon had to be postponed. I’ve been finding it tough training in lockdown because of the allocated one hour - although that's eased now - and also losing motivation slightly due to the uncertainties around October’s event. But I find motivation by reminding myself about the research Sparks does, about my brother's story and all the other Sparks families."

“I have Strava and it’s been telling me that I’m finding my workouts harder than usual (thank you very much Strava). I think realistically I need to get a wiggle on with my training but hopefully I’ll get there.

“I'm still fundraising and I'm sure more people will donate closer to the time. I’ve done a hairband sale, a cake sale and a fundraising coffee morning, which all together have raised over £2000!

Steph in the mud of Storm Dennis

Looking forward to the day

“To other people running for Sparks I’d say… we’re all in this together! And see you all at the finish line (if you’re still there when I eventually finish!).

“I think it’ll be so nice to see some familiar faces (or just other Sparks vests) running too!”

Making a huge difference

One of the research projects Sparks funds is looking into kinder treatments for children with brain tumours, like Henry. Steph says: “To people who are considering donating, I’d say please do it! It’s for such an incredible cause. The research projects that Sparks funds could not only change lives but also save lives. It is the future.

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what my family and thousands of families like mine go through. If research could give us kinder and more effective treatments it would make such a huge difference to so many lives to come.”

Good luck, Steph, and thanks for all your hard work training and fundraising! You can donate via Steph's JustGiving page here.