A Horsham teenager whose pet dog helped her battle her way through cancer is now getting set to celebrate stardom in style.
Sixteen-year-old Lauren Ashby relied on her four-legged pal Percy for support while undergoing gruelling treatment.
She poured what energy she had into training little Percy - and now the three-year-old cockapoo has repaid her by earning a coveted place at Crufts - for the second time.
Lauren’s mum Dominique says: “They have an amazing bond.”
Lauren was voted Kennel Club Young Person Of The Year at Crufts in 2018 in recognition of her success in overcoming personal challenges.
Now a student at Horsham’s Collyer’s College, Lauren has high hopes for Percy in the world-famous agility classes this year.
But she and her family are also keen to give something back so are supporting Cancer Research UK’s ‘Walk All Over Cancer’ campaign which asks people to walk 10,000 steps a day, every day in March, and raise money for the charity’s life-saving research.
Lauren first became ill in January 2017, suffering night sweats, weight loss, extreme fatigue, persistent cough, itchy skin, and lumps on her neck.
She was eventually referred for hospital tests and diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin Lymphoma and began six months of chemotherapy, followed by three-monthly scans.
All seemed well until January 2018 when Lauren had a relapse. She started treatment again but it wasn’t proving effective so underwent a stem cell transplant in June, followed by 17 daily radiotherapy sessions.
She now has no active cancer, however, doctors discovered the treatment had weakened the left side of her heart. The damage is not repairable but it can be contained with regular cardiac care at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.
While Lauren was in treatment, she was studying for her GCSEs – and came out with an impressive seven at A grade or above! When she needed a break from her books, she threw herself into training Percy.
She said: “All through my treatment I tried to focus on things we could do together. Even when my blood counts were low, I kept active and that kept my muscle strength up. Walking and training him definitely helped me through.”
Lauren’s mum Dominique said that on days when Lauren was unwell, Percy would stay protectively at her side. When she had home school lessons, he would sit patiently waiting outside the door.
Lauren is now studying for A levels in sociology, politics and environmental science and preparing Percy for Agility Dog of The Year and ABC Agility at Crufts.
Dominique said she is “full of pride” for Lauren. “Her sheer determination to try to get through her treatment with positivity has been incredible. She has kept focused throughout on things to achieve,” she said.
“Having Percy has been a massive part of all that, giving her companionship and fun - usually when he’s being naughty! - and a focus throughout.
“They have an amazing bond and he’s definitely a loveable rogue!
“Lauren’s dream is to make it onto the winners’ podium. It’s all about the fun of it for Percy and he thrives on all the attention!”
Cancer Research UK spokeswoman Lynn Daly said: “We hope lots of people will be inspired to follow in Lauren and Percy’s footsteps.”
To sign up for Walk All Over Cancer visit cruk.org/walkallover