Isla and Lorna's London Santa Dash

London Santa Dash
Isla came to GOSH as a toddler. She had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a rare childhood cancer. After 26 months of treatment, and a further five years in remission, Isla was given the all clear. Today, she’s 15 and taking part in the London Santa Dash to give back to the hospital that has cared for as long as she can remember. Her mum, Lorna, tells her story.

Before GOSH 

“I first realised something was wrong when Isla was around 17 months old. After a nasty bout of tonsillitis, I noticed she was off her food, a bit more clingy than normal, and very tired and pale...” 

Then, the week they were due to go on a family holiday, Lorna noticed an unusual rash and took Isla for an emergency GP appointment. “I didn’t even take spare nappies, or milk; I had no idea what was on the horizon and didn’t realise how long it would be until we would come back home.” 

“The GP saw the rash and told me not to worry, but to go straight to A&E. When we arrived, I found out she’d called ahead and there was a team waiting for us. They took Isla to a side room, she had bloods, an IV, and there I learned they suspected Isla had meningitis. I rang my husband who was on his way home from work and he came straight to A&E.” 

Learning the truth 

“I remember thinking, ‘it can’t be that bad if it is meningitis, because she was fine only a few hours ago so that must mean that they’ve caught it early, at least they’ve caught it early’. 

“A doctor at the local hospital told me ‘it’s bad news’. At that point I thought ‘Ok, they’re going to tell me she has meningitis.’ But then the doctor sat beside me and she told me, ‘Isla has Leukaemia.’ I was completely gobsmacked. 

“I remember saying ‘I’m sorry, that just can’t be right.’ The doctor was slowly nodding her head and I was in complete disbelief. It all happened very quickly. My in-laws came to hospital with some clothes, nappies and toiletries, and we were taken to GOSH in an ambulance as they had a bed for her ready and waiting.” 

Heartache and hope 

On arrival at GOSH, Isla was given a blood transfusion and had tests to diagnose what kind of leukaemia she had. “We met our consultant and were told it was ‘ALL’. She started chemotherapy immediately.” 

Isla was cared for on Lion ward. “The first year of chemotherapy was hard for Isla, and so difficult for us as parents to watch her go through. At one point I remember bathing her and she just felt like a bag of bones because she’d lost so much weight from being so sick. We spent most of that first year either at GOSH or our local hospital, as any sign of an infection or raised temperature meant she had to be rushed back in to check it wasn’t anything serious.” 

“What I found comforting is when we went to a day clinic, sometimes there were older kids there who had been through it – they’d got the all clear and were just going back for check-ups. I would speak to other parents, they would say their children are now OK, they’ve come through the other end, she will as well. It made me feel better as a parent.” 

Looking back 

“When you’re in the middle of that situation, with your child having chemotherapy, it’s a very dark place. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and looking back now, I don’t know how we got through it, but you just have to because you’ve got no choice! We just tried to keep life as normal for her as possible, and on the days that she was well we would go out and about, see friends, do activities, just try and give her a normal childhood.” 

Isla is now in Year 11 and getting ready for her GCSEs, sixth form and the future. She loves swimming, and karate, and has a passion for films. She is still under GOSH’s care and has a yearly check-up and echocardiogram scans on her heart to monitor any long-term effects of her treatment. 

“To look at her, you’d never ever know she’d been sick. She had something that could be cured and for that I feel eternally grateful. Great Ormond Street Hospital is amazing, it’s a wonderful hospital. Our local hospital was also fantastic.” 

Taking part in the London Santa Dash 

Lorna says: “My husband and I have done lots of different fundraising activities for leukaemia research, for the Children’s Acute Transfer Service ambulances (CATS), and for GOSH. I saw the London Santa Dash this year and said to Isla, do you fancy doing it with me to raise money for GOSH? And we signed up! I think it will be a really fun day!” 

Isla says: “When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor. Now I’m more interested in other areas but I still wanted to do something to help Great Ormond Street. Santa Dash means I can give something back. I’m not the best at running but I’m still going to try!” 

It's not too late to join Isla and Lorna on the start line. London Santa Dash, a 5 or 10k fun run in London’s Brockwell Park, takes place this Sunday – sign up today. Ready, set, ho ho ho! 

Sign up now!