WHILE some youngsters dread the school bell, smiling Sam Cox-Stewart looks forward to every lesson.
For most of his life, the eight-year-old has been battling a killer condition, from which his parents feared he might never recover.
But after three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, the brave battler, from Houghton, was finally given the news he was cancer-free.
Now, as he awaits the complete all-clear from doctors, Sam is settling into school life with his new his friends.
Jubilant parents Donna Cox, 35, and Lee Stewart, 37, say they are still amazed by their son’s recovery.
Not only has Sam been forced to fight leukaemia, he was also born with a hole in his heart and a genetic condition so rare that it baffled experts at Newcastle’s Centre for Life.
“He’s just like any little boy at school now,” said Donna. “He goes out and plays with his friends. The difference in him is unbelievable.”
Sam, who suffers from learning difficulties, started Sunningdale School, in Springwell, Sunderland, in 2009.
“He loves every minute of it.” said Donna, a medical receptionist. “He looks forward to every day.”
During his young life, Sam has undergone more tests, operations and visits to hospital than most people ever will.
He was diagnosed with a hole in the left chamber of his heart just hours after being born at Sunderland Royal Hospital, weighing a healthy 6lb, in 2003.
Transferred to the Children’s Heart Unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, he underwent open-heart surgery at just four months old.
It was while tests were being carried out that medics also discovered Sam was suffering from a rare chromosome disorder.
And just as the family were coming to terms with the youngster’s heart and chromosome problems, they were hit by another bombshell.
After discovering a pin-like rash on their son’s hands, Donna and Lee were told Sam had leukaemia.
“It was the worst day of my life,” said Donna. “My partner and I could not believe the news.
“It was a very emotional time for us all.”
Between January and August, the family spent most of their time at Sam’s bedside on Ward 11 at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).
During the first year of treatment, Sam underwent intense bouts of chemotherapy, which left him exhausted.
“He’s got so much energy now,” said Donna. “Sam was lucky to be so young. He did not understand the gruelling treatment that was ahead of him. That it would last for three-and-a-half-years of his little life.”
His family has now helped organise a charity night in aid of charity Clic Sargent, based at the RVI.
“To look back on it is still very raw and this is the reason why we decided to help the families going through this turmoil,” said Donna.
“The charity gives financial support to the families affected by illness.
“This is extremely helpful in the early days after diagnosis.”
The event – which will include a DJ, live band and raffle with “fabulous prizes” – will take place at the NE38 Sports Bar, Barmston Club, Washington, on Saturday at 7.30pm. Tickets £2.
For details, email Donna.Cox@gp-A89038.nhs.uk