It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
But just 14 months after the birth of their third child Skye, Middleton parents Amie Mills and Damion Sutcliffe were planning the funeral of their darling daughter.
A turbulent start to life saw Skye Sutcliffe struck down with an extremely rare combination of acute lymphoblastic and myeloid leukaemia when she was 20 weeks old, sparking an all-consuming fight against blood cancer that south Leeds has got behind.
Hopes were high in August last year after the tot’s four-year-old brother Harvey donated bone marrow to her in what doctors considered to be her best chance of survival.
Within months, however, hardly any donor cells remained and the family was told Skye’s condition was terminal last year. She was put on a programme of palliative care, which involved low dose chemotherapy, intended to ensure she was comfortable and pain-free during her final weeks and months.
Her condition was critical around the turn of the year, prompting the family to gear up for the worst.
“It was horrendous. We were trying to give her the best time that she could have,” said dad Damion, 27.
“We were planning her funeral and stuff like that because at Christmas time we didn’t think she would make it, even the doctors thought the same.”
Skye’s precarious health situation came after a rollercoaster period for the family, who have been taking the innocent toddler to Leeds Children’s Hospital for support for the best part of two years.
Within that time Middleton and the rest of south Leeds has rallied around the family, with countless fundraisers for charities such as Candlelighters and Delete Blood Cancer UK including a 5k ‘Run for Skye’ around Middleton Park that raised £2,000 in February.
All the while the young battler refused to give in.
Amelia Sockett, Amie’s mum and Skye’s nana who also lives in Middleton, explained: “They just kept her on palliative care to keep her comfortable and that was just to keep her pain free and living as long as possible. They just didn’t expect anything other than her passing away. We started noticing she was severely ill and we were going from hour to hour, week to week, and then she started getting stronger.”
Sensing an upturn in Skye’s health, the family took her to hospital where she was once again tested this month. Miraculously after a bone marrow aspirate test, in which a small sample is taken, consultants found no trace of leukaemia – her bone marrow consisted completely of her brother’s donor cells which had earlier appeared to have failed.
The result has seen medical professionals state that Skye has gone into “spontaneous remission”, meaning her body has fought off the cancer without the help of medication. She is now cancer-free.
“Skye was lucky with the match from her brother. Without the transplant she wouldn’t be here today,” Amelia said. “It’s a shock to everyone, including the hospital.”
But, having experienced peaks and troughs in the past, Skye’s family are keeping their feet on the ground.
Reacting to the news Amie, Skye’s mum, said: “Skye was diagnosed back in January 2014 and this is the best news we have received to date.
“We are reluctant to jump for joy as Skye has already relapsed once before but given Skye has had no curable treatment and has managed to achieve remission, which is remarkable, we are hopeful that this is the road to a journey of joy.”
The toddler’s unexpected upturn in fortunes means doctors have set out a health care plan that will see her remain on low dose chemotherapy for the next four months, before a two month break after which she will be tested once again.
A year on from a festive period in which Skye was so unwell that her family was planning for the worst, her bone marrow will be tested in the hope she remains in good health at Christmas.
A special swab party has been organised by at the South Leeds Stadium’s Phoenix Bar where visitors can enjoy face painting, a quiz, disco and the chance to swab their cheeks and sign up to the bone marrow register through Delete Blood Cancer UK today from 3pm to 7pm. Visit facebook.com/SkyesALL for information.
Nana Amelia added: “It will turn more into a celebration. Hopefully more people sign up to the register and possibly save somebody else’s life.”
BONE MARROW REGISTERS GROWING
Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is told they have a blood cancer like leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
That is over 70 people a day, 25,000 people a year. Sadly, many of these are children, but there is hope as blood stem cells or bone marrow from a matching donor could save their lives. There are two bone marrow registers – the NHS’s British Bone Marrow Registry has the details of 300,000 people and the Anthony Nolan Trust’s register has 500,000 people on it. Visit deletebloodcancer.org.uk.