Leukaemia survivor, 14, vows to help others fight disease

Iona was 12 when diagnosed with leukaemia Picture:  Lesley Martin
Iona was 12 when diagnosed with leukaemia Picture: Lesley Martin
Share this article
Have your say

A HEROIC girl who fought leukaemia after a transplant from a stranger has vowed to support other Scots battling the disease.

Iona Sutherland, 14, who endured months of chemotherapy ahead of a transplant shared the remarkable story of how she survived. Her life was saved from a match thousands of miles away in mainland Europe.

Iona Sutherland and friends supporting Stand Up to Cancer Pciture:  Lesley Martin

Iona Sutherland and friends supporting Stand Up to Cancer Pciture: Lesley Martin

Iona of Kinross, Perthshire said: “Cancer took almost a year of my life.

“It was a rough ride, isolating and really scary at times. Treatment left me in a wheelchair at my weakest but I fought back.

“I got back on my feet. I got through it thanks to the most amazing support from my family and wonderful friends. But during my time in hospital I met some children and teenagers with cancer who didn’t make it. That’s why I’m proud to support Stand Up To Cancer and help raise money to save more lives, more quickly.

Stand Up To Cancer in Scotland is a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4, backed by celebs including Davina McCall and Alan Carr aims to raise money to fund vital research which will get new and better treatments to cancer patients faster.

Iona during treatment

Iona during treatment

Iona desperately missed her friends after being diagnosed with leukaemia on September 10 2014, only three weeks into her first term at secondary school. Iona, who was 12 at the time, had visited her GP for a check up after feeling tired and dizzy. It was a huge shock for Iona’s parents, Shona and Craig Sutherland, when the results of blood tests only hours later revealed Iona was fighting the life threatening disease.

READ MORE: Amputee to lead fundraising walk over Balmoral hills after Queen e-mail

Iona said: “I spent that first night in hospital at Ninewells in Dundee and was too upset to sleep.

“The next day I was allowed home to pack my stuff before I headed with my mum and dad to the Edinbugh Sick Children’s hospital. I remember looking around my bedroom not knowing the next time I’d get to sleep in my bed. It was frightening.”

Iona who has endured a bone marrow transplant is clear of cancer, back at school and doing really well Picture: Lesley Martin

Iona who has endured a bone marrow transplant is clear of cancer, back at school and doing really well Picture: Lesley Martin

Iona started on four cycles of intense chemotherapy which made her hair fall out and made her extremely sick. But her friends stuck by her every step of the way. Hundreds of get well messages flooded in on Instagram under the hash tag, “Stay strong Iona.” And Iona’s best friends took it in turns to visit her in hospital, also sending her cards and gifts to show they were thinking of her.

When Iona was in a hospital room with no window, a friend even drew a picture of a window offering a great view just to cheer Iona up. After the second cycle of chemotherapy, Iona went in to remission but just before Iona’s 13th birthday in February she suffered a bad reaction to medication and ended up in intensive care for a fortnight.

Iona said: “It scares me that I still can’t remember those two weeks of my life.

“All I do remember is feeling pain everywhere, being unable to focus then collapsing. I had seizures for two weeks. I remember waking up in a dark room in intensive care after two weeks and thinking where am I?”

Doctors explained that a stem cell transplant was Iona’s best chance of remaining cancer free. It meant searching the worldwide stem cell register for a match to Iona’s tissue type. The first suitable donor who was contacted was unable to take part so doctors stretched their search further afield to mainland Europe.

Iona had conditioning chemotherapy to kill off her bone marrow in preparation for receiving the donor’s healthy cells which would reboot her immune system and stop leukaemia cells from growing again. The transplant went ahead on April 10 2015 and the donor’s cells were a perfect 10 out of 10 match.

Iona said: “I still don’t know which country in Europe the stem cells were from.

“I just know they were donated by man. In my mind’s eye they were donated by a big, muscly German guy but it could be an Italian or someone from Spain. All I know is that I’m really grateful to him wherever he is for helping me to stay well.”

Iona was among the first patients to move in to the new £842 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow last spring. She had the chance to see the Queen and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the official opening last summer.

READ MORE: Nine-year-old girl with diabetes wants to raise awareness

But a series of serious infections meant Iona was not well enough to leave hospital for good until August 2015.

Daisy, a schnoodle puppy dog who came to live with the family just days after Iona was eventually discharged from hospital proved an ideal welcome home present and the best therapy to help Iona slowly recover from her ordeal. And, what a difference a year makes. Iona is back at school with her friends, loves drama and is set to audition soon for the Perthshire Youth Orchestra. She’ll never forget the kindness of her friends during the worst year of her life and has wise words for any youngster with cancer today.

Iona said: “You’re not the only person going through it.

“Surround yourself by family and good friends who make you feel good and try not to worry too much. Hang in there and know that things change so quickly. You might have a horrible morning then in the afternoon feel so much better. Keep putting one foot in front of the other as there is always hope.”

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK’s spokeswoman in Scotland said: “We’d like to thank Iona and her school friends for standing out in the fight against cancer.

“We’re asking Scots to stand out in style this October and help raise crucial funds for life-saving research by pulling on a bright orange item of clothing then getting sponsored for wearing it. It could mean wearing anything from a pair of bright orange trousers to a loud tie, a bright tshirt or even a tutu. By supporting Stand Up To Cancer, they’ll be helping to raise money and transform the lives of cancer patients and their families.”

This year’s Stand Up to Cancer campaign culminates on Friday October 21 with a night of live TV on Channel 4 led by the brightest stars in film, TV and music.

Iona pulled on an orange tutu and teamed up with her best friends from Kinross High School and urged Scots to raise money for life-saving research by supporting Stand Up To Cancer.

School pals, office colleagues, sports clubs and individuals are all being invited to get sponsored to wear a ‘stand out’ item of orange for the day and help raise money for vital research.

Stand Up To Cancer aims to raise money to fund translational research, which takes developments in the lab and transforms them into brand new tests and treatments for cancer patients. Now Iona and her friends are urging Scots to join forces this October and tackle the challenge together, for an outstanding day of fundraising.

Scots can also show their support for the campaign in style as a fun range of clothing and accessories for men, women and children is available online at standuptocancer.org.uk

The range includes special edition Henry Holland designed t-shirts (£9.99) hoodies (£25) pin badges (£1) wristbands (£0.99) digital watches (£2.49) and umbrellas (£2.99).

For more information and to get involved visit standuptocancer.org.uk