Brave Lydia, 4, from Glasgow, wins cancer star award

Leukaemia survivor Lydia with her star. Picture: Mark Anderson/Contributed

Leukaemia survivor Lydia with her star. Picture: Mark Anderson/Contributed

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FOUR year old leukaemia survivor Lydia Yilmaz has won a Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Award.

The youngster from Glasgow has been recognised along with the bravery of other courageous children across the UK with cancer - as new figures released by Cancer Research UK offer increased hope of survival.

According to the charity, the rate of children dying from cancer across Scotland has fallen by 36 per cent in the last 20 years, thanks to more research and better treatments.

The number of children dying from cancer each year in Scotland has fallen from around 30 under the age of 15 two decades ago to around 20 today. Around 130 children are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland each year.

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The news comes as Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens launched its annual Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx.

Lydia Yilmaz hugs her mum Selen Yilmaz. Picture: Mark Anderson/Contributed

Lydia Yilmaz hugs her mum Selen Yilmaz. Picture: Mark Anderson/Contributed

The awards, which celebrate the courage of children affected by cancer, are backed by a host of famous faces including Olympic long jumper and medallist Greg Rutherford, professional dancers Karen and Kevin Clifton and television personality Sam Faiers.

Dance fan Lydia was temporarily unable to walk after she was diagnosed with leukaemia while on holiday in Turkey last November.

But after a year Lydia, who has endured four rounds of chemotherapy as well as blood transfusions, is in remission and has returned to her love of salsa dancing.

The youngster has been recognised with a Kids & Teens star award for demonstrating remarkable courage during a tough fight back to health. Her parents, Selen Yilmaz, 33, and Ozgur Yilmaz, 34, are hugely proud of their little girl.

Mum Selen said: “I call Lydia my dancing sunshine. She’s loving dancing again and life has somehow come back to our family.

“When your child is diagnosed with cancer you have no idea when or how that will happen.

“It was traumatic but right from the start we were surrounded by amazing people who made Lydia laugh, gave her strength and made her happy.

“We are truly grateful to that mighty army of angels, our family and friends who gave Lydia positive energy and love.

“There have been times that it was Lydia who kept me going. She is a naturally happy person. Even when she felt too weak to walk, she still smiled.”

The family who moved to Scotland from Turkey in 2012 know only too well how crucial new developments and breakthroughs in treatments are in helping children and adults survive cancer.

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Dance teacher Selen recalls vividly the moment their lives were turned upside down on 17 November last year after tests revealed Lydia had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, a type of blood cancer that starts in white blood cells.

Her family were visiting family in Istanbul when Lydia first complained of sore legs and feeling exhausted.

Bruises on her body, a high temperature, nose bleeds and swollen gums raised alarm bells so they went to Acibadem Hospital for tests.

Selen said: “That night was the longest night of my life. They ordered a blood test then another one as the doctor wanted to double check the results.

“Lydia’s blood counts were so low that we found ourselves in the special care unit.

The doctor on call alerted the specialist who came rushing to the hospital. The doctors were 90 per cent sure she had leukaemia.

Our family and friends arrived at the hospital and everyone was in complete shock. Lydia kept asking, where’s my daddy?

Lydia and I had been looking forward to our holiday in Turkey for months. We’d been so excited packing our suitcases and counting down the days until our holiday. We’d been unaware of our true destination, leukaemia.”

Selen then had to make a heart-breaking phone call to her husband who was working thousands of miles away in Glasgow and explain how ill Lydia was.

He booked the next flight out to Turkey while Lydia started on the first round of 28 days of chemotherapy. Side effects of the treatment meant Lydia’s hair fell out and she was too weak to walk.

Selen said: “Lydia and I both had thick, strong wavy hair down to our waists.

“Before Lydia began losing her hair I had my hair cut. Lydia was very surprised when she first saw me with short hair. She said, ‘Mummy, you look like Daddy now.’ I laughed it off. After all, what is hair? Short, long, what difference does it make even if you don’t have any?”

Just before Christmas last year, Lydia was finally well enough to fly home to Scotland to be treated at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow.

Christmas day 2015 was spent in hospital starting her second round of chemotherapy.

As Lydia’s strength grew she started walking again. By spring this year, Lydia, who in total completed four rounds of intense chemotherapy was regularly dancing for the nurses and playing on her pink scooter.

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She will continue to get maintenance chemotherapy until January 2018 but right now Lydia is clear of cancer.

Her mum Selen who is a dance teacher and founder of Joimove International, which offers dance classes across Scotland regularly brings Lydia to dance classes where she inspires participants.

Selen said: “Lydia started to believe in herself, to believe she was turning a corner and getting better.

“Nobody knows why Lydia got cancer. I focus on living in the moment now and we enjoy every single good moment that we have.

“Lydia had to live in a world of biopsies, blood tests and oxygen mask. Now we never miss an opportunity to celebrate the healthy days, to celebrate being able to kiss loved ones without an oxygen mask in the way, to know the value of running, jumping and of course dancing around outside a hospital. Lydia gives the world a reason to dance every day.”

Now relatives and friends of young cancer patients and survivors who deserve special recognition are being urged to nominate them for the accolade in the run up to Christmas at cruk.org/kidsandteens.

Unlike many other children’s awards, there is no judging panel because Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens and TK Maxx believe that each and every child who faces cancer is extra special.

Recipients get a unique trophy, a £50 TK Maxx gift card and a certificate signed by celebrities.

While the figures released today underline the progress being made in the fight against children’s cancers, there is still much more to do.

That’s why Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens is raising vital funds to accelerate research into new, better and kinder treatments for children, teens and young adults with cancer.

Cancer Research UK supports researchers who are working hard to understand the causes of children’s cancer and the faulty genes that drive it.

Its Children’s Cancer Trials Team co-ordinates groundbreaking cancer trials for children and young people in specialist treatment centres across the UK.

These trials make pioneering new therapies available to children with cancer and are helping more survive.

The charity is also funding work searching for drugs to block faulty genes that cause a type of cancer that starts from nerve tissue called neuroblastoma.

The charity is also funding studies improving treatment options for children with a type of kidney cancer called Wilm’s tumour and work to understand more about how leukaemia develops and why it can return after treatment.

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens spokeswoman for Scotland, said: “It is a privilege to be able to recognise the courage of children with cancer with a Star Award and we would like to encourage anyone who knows an inspirational youngster to nominate them now.

“Although we’re losing fewer young lives to cancer, a lot more needs to be done to find new and better treatments.

“And as more children survive cancer, it’s especially important that we concentrate on improving their quality of life after treatment.

“Many children who survive cancer will live with long-term side effects from their treatment which may have an impact on them as adults.

“So it’s vital that we find treatments that are not only better at treating the cancer but also have fewer side effects.

“Cancer Research UK’s investment in clinical trials for children with cancer has been a major factor in developing today’s treatments and it’s pivotal to ongoing research that will offer new hope to children with cancer and their families”.

TK Maxx’s support of Cancer Research UK’s Kids & Teens Star Awards is part of a wider partnership with the charity, which has raised around £27.1 million since 2004, through stock and cash donations.

Around £23 million of this has specifically supported research into children’s cancers, making the retailer the biggest corporate funder of research into childhood cancers in the UK.

Jo Murphy, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for TK Maxx, said: “The Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Awards are a fantastic way of acknowledging the bravery and determination of children who have faced a cancer diagnosis.

“TK Maxx is very proud to be supporting the awards and helping to raise vital awareness and funds for research. Thousands more people are alive today thanks to the charity’s work into children’s cancers.”

Cancer Research UK’s Kids & Teens Star Awards are open to all under-18s who have cancer or who have been treated for the disease in the last five years.

Olympic athlete, Greg Rutherford, said: “Every child that has to face cancer is a star in their own right. It is such an honour to support the Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens Star Awards and to hero these amazing children that have gone through so much, at such a young age.”

To nominate a child for an award, donate or fundraise in support of Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens, visit cruk.org/kidsandteens.

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