Tributes to fun-loving Ria

Her parents lived in hope of a miracle to the end - but this week on a sunny March morning, the unthinkable happened and schoolgirl Ria Helsdon lost her fight for life.

Her parents lived in hope of a miracle to the end - but this week on a sunny March morning, the unthinkable happened and schoolgirl Ria Helsdon lost her fight for life.

When the time came on Monday, the 14-year-old whose inspirational cancer battle has triggered fundraising and a mountain of good wishes, was at home surrounded by those who loved her most.

Afterwards, her mother Heather Helsdon emerged from her daughter's bedroom for the first time in two weeks to face a world without her only child.

For the past four years, Ria and her devoted parents Heather and Roger, of Beatty Road, Great Yarmouth, have lived with the spectre of cancer, the intensity of their ordeal hidden behind smiles and in Ria's case colourful bandanas.

Her mother said simply and quietly that “it wasn't to be” having scoured the country for alternative therapies after conventional medics said last year that there was no hope of recovery.

But, even when she was given months to live, Mrs Helsdon said she was cocooned by disbelief, never thinking it would come to this.

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That Ria, who brought only joy and happiness to everyone she knew, should have been dealt such a harsh lot was an injustice that would probably never resolve itself, she added.

Many would have happily traded places with the bubbly teenager who loved life and didn't want to leave.

The many messages of condolence - hundreds on Facebook from friends - have brought some comfort to the family who say it was remarkable Ria who kept them going with her courage and humour.

“Everyday there are so many messages from friends saying beautiful things about her. She would have loved to think that they were all writing these lovely things,” Mrs Helsdon said.

Since her death her parents have discovered poignant poems dotted around the house whose subject matter reveal she probably knew more than she let on about the seriousness of her condition.

On the surface, however, uncomplaining Ria, whose school photo taken in January this year betrays no hint of the illness that was consuming her, never questioned her family about her prognosis, shielding them from her own upset and always remaining upbeat.

A budding reporter she frequently featured within the Mercury's news pages as we noted her many milestones and kept pace with her treatment, always buoyed by her staggering resilience and ability to bounce back, often amazing medics as well as everyone else.

Her young life had hung in the balance more than once since the shock diagnosis in 2006 when mystery aches and pains suddenly took a turn for the worse and her knee swelled alarmingly. Bone cancer tumours in her knee cap and femur were removed and a motorised, magnetic knee fitted.

Chemotherapy aimed at shrinking tiny tumours in her lungs followed and the then 10-year-old suffered infections and numerous problems, including sickness and hair and weight loss.

At that time the worst case scenario was that she could lose her leg or be left infertile by the treatment.

But even after the most lengthy operations she would be back on her feet as soon as she was able, mingling with school friends and doing her best to resume a normal life amid the check-ups.

The all-clear was always a way off but the battle looked to have been won when Ria was told she was on the brink of needing less frequent appointments.

But all too soon a routine scan revealed new tumours on her lungs. After a nine-hour operation in July surgeons concluded the cancer had reached into places they couldn't. Their only hope then was a trial treatment at London's Great Ormond Street hospital focussing on the immune system. But on December 11 the family were told it had had no effect.

Mrs Helsdon said: “We just lived everything she wanted in the last three months. We had a brilliant party on New Year's Eve until 3am. She was such a little trooper. But then two weeks last Sunday she did not get up anymore.

“Even that last day she was making us laugh. She just kept us all going. She loved seeing everyone and some of the things she said had us in fits. We cannot believe the amount of flowers, she just touched so many people's lives. She never once complained, she was just marvellous.”

Andy Toone, headteacher at Great Yarmouth High School where Ria was a pupil said: “The school is very proud of Ria and what she achieved both at school and in her tragically short life. She will be remembered by us for her joy of life and for her determination to succeed at school. The thoughts of the Governing Body, staff and pupils are with Ria's parents, her other family members and with her many friends at this very difficult time. We will be speaking with pupils who knew Ria well about commemorating her memory in some way in the future.”

Ria's family are determined to give her the send off she deserves and will welcome everyone who was touched by her to the funeral at St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth on Monday at 1.30pm.