January 24, 2023 8.00 am This story is over 15 months old

Grimsby girl, 9, beats cancer with transplant from younger sister

Ruby has been recognised with a special national award

A Grimsby schoolgirl who showed great courage throughout her cancer treatment, is now recovering after a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, and has been recognised with a special national award.

Ruby Leaning was just six when she collapsed at school and she was rushed to hospital on January 9, 2020. She arrived in hospital at 2.30pm that day and by 11pm she had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – a cancer of the white blood cells.

Ruby was initially put on the lowest intensity of treatment. She was moved to the highest intensity after six weeks, but that “didn’t even touch” the leukaemia. A bone marrow transplant was advised and that was when the family got what Rebecca described as “our first real win” as Ruby’s sister Mabel was a match.

Her mum Rebecca, 32, said: “We were told there was only one place we could get a perfect related match and that would be a sibling. I knew in my gut Mabel was going to be a match and we’d have a My Sister’s Keeper moment, being in this situation of having one daughter at death’s door and having to throw the other at her to save her, and there being nothing else we could do.

“I remember being on the train feeling pretty awful and helpless – my daughter’s got cancer, treatment’s not working, I’m missing all my family, I’ve quit my job – when my husband, Nick, rang to say our consultant had called and Mabel was a perfect match, and I just burst into tears in the middle of the train. I call her my shooting star. It was the lowest moment of my life and she just flew over.”

Ruby had to play in the garden whilst wearing a chemotherapy backpack in order to be ready for the transplant.

Ruby had to have constant chemotherapy to be ready for a transplant, and Rebecca said she will “always remember her running around in the back garden, with a backpack on and chemo running through her”. She had to wear a chemotherapy backpack to be ready for the transplant, only to get COVID when the time arrived.

She was the first case worldwide where a decision had to be made about whether to go ahead in the circumstances.

“We were told the leukaemia was going to kill her, so we had to take the chance,” said Rebecca, who gave up her job whilst Ruby went through treatment, but is now working for the family artificial wedding flower business called GroovyRuby.

The transplant took place eight days after Mabel’s second birthday and three days before Ruby’s seventh.

Ruby has received a Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Award for the courage she showed throughout her treatment, much of which she faced alone due to lockdown restrictions. | Photo: ImageNorth Photography by Richard Walker

In January 2021, Ruby achieved her goal of returning to school at Laceby Acres Academy and she dreams of one day becoming a nurse. Her sister, who is now affectionately called ‘Mabel Marrow’ by family and friends, also attends the same school.

The family arranged for Ruby to ring a bell that previously belonged to her beloved great-grandfather, who died from cancer in 2018, having not been able to ring one, like others normally would upon finishing treatment, due to the pandemic.

Rebecca said: “He was a fabulous man and made of strong stuff himself. Ruby loved him and we’ve got videos of them singing together, so there couldn’t have been a more fitting moment.”

Rebecca and her 37-year-old husband Nick, who is a mechanical engineer, make a monthly donation to Cancer Research UK after Ruby’s experience.

The Leaning family. | Photo: ImageNorth Photography by Richard Walker

When Rebecca found out about the Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards she did not hesitate to nominate Ruby, who is now nine-years-old.

She has since received a Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Award, in partnership with TK Maxx, for the courage she showed throughout her treatment, much of which she faced alone due to lockdown restrictions.

Every child nominated receives the accolade, which is backed by a host of famous faces, including celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, TV personality Dr Ranj and  children’s TV favourite Mister Maker.

Ruby with her sister Mabel, the donor for her life-saving bone marrow transplant. | Photo: ImageNorth Photography by Richard Walker

There is no judging panel because the charity believes every child diagnosed with cancer deserves special recognition.

As well as a star-shaped trophy, Ruby received a £50 TK Maxx gift card, T-shirt and a certificate signed by the celebrities. Ruby’s four-year-old sister Mabel also received a certificate.

Rebecca said: “She loves the Star Award. It means a lot for the whole family and her friends to see her get that little bit of extra recognition.

“When you get thrust into the world of childhood cancer and you get on the wards, it blows my mind. I don’t think the children, the staff or the researchers who pave the way for them to be treated get anywhere near the recognition they deserve. The amazing things that are happening daily are inspirational.

“With Ruby, she was about to go in for a bone marrow transplant and none of her family were allowed to come and see her, or give her a hug, because of the pandemic.

“She did that journey on her own and she’s got no idea what demons she slayed. Everyone around her was in a mask, looking scary. She didn’t moan once, she always kept smiling and I find it unbelievable. I’m so inspired by her every day – she’s my hero.

“As for the researchers, they’re one of the most important parts of your battle. It really humbles me to think there are people out there getting up every day and looking for a way to cure your child or your family member. They are literal life-savers.”

Ruby has a great bond with her younger sister Mabel. | Photo: ImageNorth Photography by Richard Walker

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