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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brave schoolgirl, 13, who begged doctors to stop painful life-prolonging treatment, dies after 11-year cancer battle

-Doctors discovered 5lb tumour when Leah was just two
-Decided to stop treatment aged eight because of painful side effects
-'She had no fear and lived to the full', family friend tells funeral party

By Sadie Whitelocks

A brave schoolgirl has died five years after she begged doctors to stop giving her life-lengthening treatment for cancer.

For more than a decade Leah Beth Richards, 13, battled with her illness but last week she passed away at the family home in Pontypridd, South Wales.

She was just two when doctors diagnosed her with Wilms' tumour - a rare condition which affects 70 children a year in the UK- after discovering a 5lb mass on her kidney.

The disease usually has a high cure rate but after enduring a third recurrence medics told Leah the condition was terminal, but medical intervention would prolong her life.

She underwent painful radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions but decided she wanted to stop treatment when she turned eight.

Despite hospital officials threatening legal action, Leah's wish was granted and she made a pact with her parents Kathryn and Mark that she would live the rest of her life to the full.

Over the years she took the opportunity to meet some of her favourite stars including footballer Frank Lampard and actress Catherine Zeta Jones.

The teenager lost her battle for life nine days ago and hundreds gathered to attend her funeral today, which featured a pink cotton.

In homage to the young rugby and football fanatic, the pallbearers dressed in bright pink Cardiff Blues away shirts as they entered the crematorium.

A family spokesperson said: 'We are devastated - Kathryn can't find the words to say how painful it is to lose her.'

When Leah stopped treatment five years ago, her mother Kathryn, 41, whole-heartedly backed her decision.

'She can't even walk downstairs without getting out of breath - what kind of life is that?,' she asked at the time.

'She has said she doesn't want any more treatment and I just can't put her through it again. We are thinking of her quality of life not quantity.'

Inspiration: Leah with Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas in 2006

Father Mark added: 'When people argue that acutely ill children should have medical treatment against their wishes it makes me incredibly angry.

'Clearly, they have never known the hell of chemotherapy. For eight years I have witnessed its harrowing effects on my daughter.'

Leah’s last course of chemotherapy was the highest dose possible. Nicknamed the ‘nuclear bomb’, it kills almost every cell in the body without causing death.

But she pleaded with doctors to stop sessions after it caused her to lose her hair, experience constant headaches, continually vomit blood and urinate and defecate uncontrollably.

She told her mother: ‘I don’t want to go through any more. Please don’t let them do any more to me.’

One of her proudest moments was meeting her Chelsea heroes Frank Lampard and John Terry at the club's Stamford Bridge stadium.

She also met Hollywood couple Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas while she was being treated at the Children's Hospital for Wales in Cardiff.

Meanwhile the local community offered continued support and locals carried out a sponsored bed push to raise money to send her on a Christmas trip to Lapland.

A family friend said during the funeral service: 'Leah Beth was a very strong and positive lady whose life was turned upside down by illness.

'She was an old head on young shoulders with a wicked sense of humour.

'She had no fear and lived to the full - she was loved by all who knew her.

'Mark and Kathryn could not have had a more wonderful daughter. She had an infectious personality and she touched everyone she met.'

A poem read as a tribute was met with a resounding applause and following Leah's request dozens of red balloons were released into the sky.

Leah made a pact to live life to the full and met with some of her favourite stars including Frank Lampard

Leah was a keen sporting fan and one of her fondest memories was visiting Chelsea football club in 2007



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