LITTLE Rio Spurr breaks into a beaming grin and happily announces he is having pancakes with syrup on for breakfast.

Once they have been demolished, he’s off to the settee for a spot of Fireman Sam on the iPad . . . the theme tune to which he belts out at the top of his voice.


Dad Tommy, a former defender with Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn among others, and mum Chloe look on proudly from the kitchen.

It’s a scene being replayed in hundreds of homes all over the country.

Only this isn’t your run-of-the-mill home — and Rio is far from your run-of-the-mill toddler.

For the songs and the smiles disguise the fact this is his first day back home in Brockhall, near Blackburn, after his latest stay in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

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The cute-as-a-kitten three-year-old has just undergone another course of chemotherapy, there is radiotherapy further down the line . . . and no guarantee of success.

What began as tummy ache in April was actually Wilms’ tumour, a form of kidney cancer in children — and more besides.

He also had two tumours on his lungs and even if chemo and radiotherapy work, there is a strong likelihood the cancer will return. And by then there will be no more NHS avenues left.

In such cases the survival rate is around ten per cent and the only real option would be to seek pioneering treatment overseas.

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Purse strings are stretched as Chloe and Tommy, who also played for Doncaster and Preston, have given up work to be with Rio and his 18-month-old brother Rudy at home and hospital.

They have been living on savings as Tommy’s career-ending injury was bizarrely ruled to be ’wear and tear’, meaning there was no PFA payout.

And now, faced with having to find funds if — as they sadly expect — they must desperately try to seek a cure, they are at their wit’s end.

Tommy had qualified as a teacher, but “working shifts” so one was with Rio in hospital and the other with Rudy meant that — plus Chloe’s job as a beauty therapist — had to go.

His old clubs have helped and next month a 120-mile bike ride from Hillsborough to Deepdale, via Doncaster and Ewood Park, takes place — but more is needed. Much more.

He explained: “Rio’s chemotherapy means we didn’t have a choice. He could be in four days at a time and with how it makes him feel, we could be back in hospital at the drop of a hat.


“His immune system is virtually non-existent. As soon as he has a temperature, it’s a 48-hour stay in hospital and we have Rudy to think about too, who is just as important.

“It has been a nightmare. We’re exhausting savings and it’s due to the help and kindness people have shown that we’ve been able to keep going.”

Chloe added: “If Rio is cured at the end of this course of treatment in March — and there’s no guarantee — the high risk features and tumours on his lungs make it more likely to return.

“If it does, his chances of survival are minuscule and he’ll have already had everything he can on the NHS.

“So if we’re in that position we want to be able to give him every possible chance of maybe going abroad.

“If that means having to sell the house, of course we’d do anything.

But we’re trying to keep life as normal as possible and to make sure one of them has a parent there at all times.”

For now, though, Tommy and Chloe will lap up the next two weeks with him back home as he regains strength before another dose of chemo.

Yet the risk of infection means there can be no visits to the likes of play centres or swimming pools, both of which Rio loves.

Not even a bath, as the ever present Hickman line — a narrow tube allowing the chemo to go directly into the bloodstream — cannot be submerged.

Keeping life normal is a battle in itself, yet both Tommy and Chloe are making a damned good fist of it.

Tommy said: “He’s a very bright little boy and asks a lot of questions. We told him he was going for a little operation — obviously it wasn’t, he was having a kidney removed.

“But on the way down to the anaesthetist he’s singing the theme to Fireman Sam at the top of his voice, walking down in his gown.

“And when he came home after eight days in, there were a couple of nights when there was lots of singing and laughing. We just didn’t want it to end.

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“We have to cherish those times more than we used to because they don’t happen very often.”

And all the while his mum and dad are telling the heartbreaking story, Rio — headphones on, across the other side of the room — sings away loudly and happily.

As Chloe said: “Everyone at hospital is totally charmed by him. He walks down the corridor shouting, ‘Here I am, hiya’. He just loves life,  he loves everything.”


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