Eaton Ford boy prepares to kick cancer into touch with football comeback

Leo Francis in Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, with his pal Harvey Flain.

Leo Francis in Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, with his pal Harvey Flain. - Credit: Archant

A 10-year-old boy could be just weeks away from making a remarkable comeback on a football pitch, little more than a year after being diagnosed with cancer.

In October last year, Leo Francis, whose footballing talent had seen him picked up by Cambridge United, was found to have a rare form of bone cancer.

What had been presumed to be a straight-forward football injury to his right leg was something far more serious, and was caught just in time.

Dad Tom, of St Neots Road, Eaton Ford, explained: “He was playing in a football tournament and missed a penalty. He was blaming his leg and saying it didn’t feel right. But we thought it would fix itself.”

When he was still hobbling a week or so later, Mr Francis accepted advice that he should be checked out and was glad he had.

A scan at Hinchingbrooke Hospital confirmed the presence of cancer, a biopsy at a Birmingham hospital revealed it was osteosarcoma and the heart-breaking possibility of the football-mad youngster having to lose a limb was discussed.

“We were very upset because we weren’t prepared for that,” his dad admitted. “We asked for a second, third and fourth opinion and a surgeon from the same [Birmingham] hospital said it was possible to do the surgery without taking the leg off.”

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The three-hour operation removed 98 per cent of the tumour and, crucially, did not disrupt any major blood vessels in his leg.

“From that point he spent nine months virtually living at Addenbrooke’s going through chemo,” Mr Francis said. “It was very intense and terrible to see him deteriorate. He lost all his hair and went very thin and pale.

“But he adapted to that lifestyle, even though he couldn’t see his friends and couldn’t really do anything.”

It was not until July that the line used to administer his chemo drugs was removed and he was told he was in remission.

The chances of the cancer returning are being further reduced thanks to a new drug Leo is trialling, the first child in the country in his age group to do so.

His recovery has involved hydrotherapy at Addenbrooke’s and he is now doing gym work.

And he is even eyeing 15 minutes on the pitch at a charity match on November 29 between Priory and Little Paxton Under-10s.

The match will raise funds for children’s cancer charity Clic Sergeant, after it provided a nurse and general advice and support to the Francis family.

“He hobbles but he still has his skill but not the same pace and agility, added Mr Francis. “He’s left-footed and the cancer was in his right leg, so in his mind he still has his good foot.

“Ultimately, he is one of the lucky ones. We’re just trying to treat him like a normal 10 year old.

“He loves football and, thankfully, it looks like he will be able to play again. That’s his goal.”

Inspired by Leo, family friends Matt Giggs and Ollie Henson, of Giggs and Co estate agents, are to run the St Neots Half Marathon on Sunday (November 16).

They will be raising funds for Clic Sergeant. To support their effort, visit