THREE-year-old Lily Hartley has just started nursery school and is absolutely loving it.

But just seven months ago her family’s world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

“It is unbelievably devastating when you find out. It is the last thing that you think anybody will tell you,’’ said her mother Clare.

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The youngster, from West Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, County Durham, needed an eight-hour operation at Newcastle’s RVI to remove the growth.

She needed a shunt to ensure the flow of brain fluid but there was a problem with the first procedure and had to undergo a second. 

There then followed an anxious wait while the tumour was analysed in the United States - followed by relief at the news that it was low grade and did not require further treatment.

Lily has received a Little Star Award by Cancer Research UK to recognise her bravery in fighting the disease. 

Her brother Sonny, aged fourteen months, also received one because of the time he spent on hospital visits.

“Three weeks before she was diagnosed she started walking like she was drunk,’’ said Mrs Hartley.

They took her to the University Hospital of North Durham where doctors believed she was suffering from a virus. 

She added: “We ended up at the RVI and within 15 minutes they said she had pressure behind her eyes.

“She had an MRI scan that afternoon and we were told that she had a brain tumour.

“It was pressing on her spinal cord, which was why she couldn’t walk. She was tired and being sick."

She underwent an eight hour operation to remove the tumour, which was sent to America to be tested to see if Lily would require radiotherapy or chemotherapy. 

Her dad David, an assistant golf club professional, said: “The cancer people at the RVI were perfect.’’

Lily, one of only 60 children a year in the UK to develop a brain tumour at such a young age, has now been given the all-clear but must undergo regular check-up scans.