Anneeka Hussain just loves gymnastics.
The smiling eight-year-old doesn’t let the fact she had to have her leg amputated to save her life get in the way of her dreams.
Anneeka from Leeds has been recognised with a special award from Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People. Now the plucky youngster is urging other families to nominate their loved ones for the award.
Anneeka, who will be nine on Sunday, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer – in July last year. Since then she has undergone chemotherapy, spending huge amounts of time in hospital, including her eighth birthday and the Christmas holidays last year. She often had to be isolated away from her family and friends to prevent infections.
Anneeka only finished treatment in August and is now looking forward to celebrating that – and her first birthday after cancer – with close family.
Sharing a house in East Leeds with mum, Kay 40, mechanic dad Ishtiaq, 52, and five brothers aged between 20 and six, Anneeka, a keen gymnast, was shy, but enjoyed being at Mill Field Primary School, Potternewton.
During the early summer of last year, she had been on holiday to Pakistan to visit family, but while there kept tripping up and complaining about pain in her leg. When she got back home, the pain continued to get worse. The family GP put it down to growing pains, but once Anneeka refused to go to her beloved gymnastics and others noticed her falling, Kay took her to A&E at Leeds General Infirmary in July.
“They did blood tests and an ultrasound which didn’t show anything, but she was screaming out in so much pain they then did an X-ray. Just 10 minutes later, the doctor came back with a worried face and told us to sit down. I knew what she was going to say – she’s got cancer.”
Tumours were found in Anneeka’s left leg – around and above the knee – and she was put in a brace straight away to reduce any risk of fracture. She was admitted and after further tests was diagnosed with osteosarcoma - a type of bone cancer in that affects around 35 children in the UK a year.
“This time the doctor told us ‘you need to prepare yourself for the worse’,” says Kay. “It was a high-grade tumour and growing fast. We just sat there in shock; she was only seven years old. This was going to be a full on and unknown journey and Ishtiaq and I knew we also had to support each other to keep her and the rest of the family going too.”
Her parents took it in turns to look after the boys at home and be with Anneeka while she remained in hospital having chemotherapy.
Then in November last year, she went for specialist surgery in London. Usually the affected bone is removed and replaced with a metal rod, but because of where the tumours were and Anneeka’s age and small size, that was not be possible, and she faced a full amputation.
“We knew Anneeka would require surgery, but our lives were turned upside down when we were told she would need an amputation of her leg, rather than a knee replacement. We talked this through with her, we felt she had to be part of the decision. I couldn’t believe how grown up she suddenly became. She said ‘I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I want to get rid of it’. It was heart-breaking thinking she would lose her leg and what that would mean to the rest of her life. But at least she would be in less pain, and it could reduce the chance of the cancer coming back, which would be even worse.”
The surgeons removed her thigh bone close to the groin. Then the remaining healthy part of her lower leg below her knee and without the foot, was rotated and attached to the top, giving her a longer stump which would make it easier to wear a prosthetic leg and give her a better chance of walking in the future.
She is one of only a handful of people to have this particular surgery, which took nine hours to complete and 97 staples to close the wounds.
“She amazed the surgeons, nurses, everyone in the hospital by how quickly she bounced back. The physios couldn’t believe she was up and walking with sticks in no time,” says Kay, who nominated Aneeka for the CRUK award. She has physiotherapy at Seacroft Hospital and has regular check-ups. She was glad to start back at school in September.
“Before, Anneeka used to be a timid and quiet little girl, looked after and doted on by her brothers. Despite the unthinkable trauma of cancer and losing her leg, she has remained positive determined and most importantly upheld her strength – and has given that strength to all of us through her positivity and courage.
“She’s embracing the challenges she now has, facing them full on. Anneeka is not shy anymore and quick to respond if people stare at her leg, telling them it is a shark bite. She makes sure all her classmates know about cancer and what happened to her, including speaking about it in assembly. She’s even written a poem and a story to help more people know about cancer, which is going to be published. And she’s even made videos talking about her experience, hoping to help others.
“With her prosthetic leg, she’s getting better at walking and will be able to use her wheelchair and crutches much less – she can do the splits again and wants to be the first Olympic amputee gymnast. Anneeka certainly is a shining star. A real inspiration and a truly wonderful, caring, loving child, with a bright future once this chapter closes. We are so proud of her.”
Anneeka received a Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Award, in partnership with TK Maxx.
Every child nominated receives the accolade
There is no judging panel because the charity believes every child diagnosed with cancer deserves special recognition. The awards are open to all under-18s who have been diagnosed with the disease in the last five years.
As well as a star shaped trophy, Anneeka also received a £50 TK Maxx gift card, T-shirt and a certificate signed by the celebrities.
To nominate someone visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/children-and-young-people/star-awards