01 Dec 2022 Fundraising

Leukaemia UK launch Winter Appeal celebrating mother of two able to enjoy Christmas with her family after life-saving stem cell transplant

Today, Leukaemia UK launch their Winter Appeal to raise vital funds for leukaemia research and stop the disease from devastating more lives.

Last year Emma Leeming, an English teacher and mother of two from Wakefield, Yorkshire, had her world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Over 3000 people are given this devastating news every year in the UK, including 100 children. Leukaemias such as Emma’s are difficult to treat and despite progress, 5-year survival for AML across all age-groups stands at just 15.3%.

When Emma felt tired towards the end of the school term, she assumed it was nothing out of the ordinary. It was only when she collapsed and was taken to hospital, that a blood test diagnosed her with AML inversion 16 and myeloid sarcomas on her pancreas, uterus and liver.

Within days she was started on an initial course of chemotherapy and was told that she would need a stem cell transplant.

After 6 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a second round of FLAG-ida consolidation chemotherapy, Emma was luckily matched with a stem cell donor.

She returned to hospital in December last year to undergo the stem cell transplant that would save her life and allow her to be with her family this Christmas.

Emma said,

“Since diagnosis it has been a horrendous journey for my family, but although the treatment has been incredibly challenging, it has given me hope that it will cure me of the disease and allow me to live a normal life, cancer free.

“This time last year I was alone in hospital, unable to have visitors or even speak to my children by video call because seeing me was upsetting them too much. But my stem cell transplant has seen me go from strength to strength and only a year on I am living a full and active life.”

As Emma’s story shows, stem cell transplants (SCTs) are a vital option for AML but are a very harsh treatment and the current success rate is only around fifty per cent.

Continued research into finding kinder treatments and improving success rates for SCTs is crucial and gives hope to the 27 people in the UK who receive a leukaemia diagnosis every day.

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, said:

“Important discoveries are happening all the time within blood cancer research. Yet despite progress, leukaemia remains a difficult disease to treat and just over half of leukaemia patients currently live longer than five years after their diagnosis. Further research is therefore vital. Leukaemia UK’s winter appeal will help to continue funding research that has the potential to both save and improve lives.

We are asking for your help this Christmas, so that we can continue to accelerate progress for people like Emma and give the next person diagnosed with leukaemia the best possible experience of diagnosis, treatment and care.”

Emma’s Christmas Story

This time last year, when I should have been getting ready for Christmas with my family, I was all alone in hospital. 

Everything happened so quickly. I started getting these agonising chest pains. It got so bad my husband called 999.

Within just a few days, the results of a blood test showed I had acute myeloid leukaemia. I just couldn’t believe it.

It’s hard to put into words how awful those next few months of treatment were.

The treatment I was having for leukaemia was so harsh I wasn’t allowed any visitors. It would have been too risky.  I couldn’t even speak to my two children by video call. Seeing me was upsetting them too much, because I didn’t look like their mummy anymore.

I had one of the strongest types of chemo there is.

I was only 40 and healthy, and it left me feeling totally broken. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone older or more vulnerable than me.

And after three rounds of chemo, I needed radiotherapy and then a stem cell transplant. All I wanted was to be at home with my family, enjoying Christmas.

Instead, after the transplant, I was alone in an isolation room. I felt like I’d run 100 marathons and was terrified of catching an infection – because I knew it could kill me. There was a week when I couldn’t eat at all because my mouth and throat were completely covered in ulcers. Looking back, I don’t know how I got through those days.

I remember one doctor saying to me, “I hope at one point soon we won’t have to do what we’re doing to you, because with the radiotherapy and chemotherapy, what we’re really doing is pumping you full of poison. We have to find better ways to destroy cancer cells.”

And if I had one wish this Christmas, it would be for less gruelling, less painful leukaemia treatments to be discovered.

I’m so happy to be able to tell you that my cancer is in remission. The transplant worked as well as anyone could have expected.

But we have to keep funding research to find better, kinder ways to treat leukaemia.

The answers are waiting to be found, and by joining with Leukaemia UK you can help to fund desperately needed research into new treatments. Please donate today so Leukaemia UK can fund the amazing scientists working to find kinder, less painful, and more effective ways to care for and treat people with leukaemia.

Research to improve survival for leukaemia patients

A stem cell transplant like the one Emma received is a life-saving treatment which is often the only effective treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Yet relapse rates following stem cell transplants are high and AML is still one of the most deadly forms of blood cancer.

Dr Pramila Krishnamurthy, a Leukaemia UK John Goldman Fellow co-funded by Rosetrees Trust, is researching how relapse can be prevented after stem cell transplantation. Routinely, immune cells taken from the original stem cell donor are given to the patient after their original transplant. We still don’t fully understand how this process, called donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI), works. Pramila is testing the possibility that DLI may help to correct a patient’s immune response following the transplant, eliminating the remaining leukaemic cells and helping to prevent relapse.

Dr Krishnamurthy said:

“When patients relapse or fail to respond to treatment it’s heart-breaking – especially when we only have limited treatment options in this scenario. During my John Goldman Fellowship I am exploring the use of donor lymphocyte infusion to help correct defects in patients’ immune responses, so that they are better able to fight their underlying cancer.”

Related posts

Leukaemia: Investigating stem cells to prevent cancer

11 January 2019

Leukaemia: Investigating stem cells to prevent cancer

Dr Alice Giustacchini, University College London and John Goldman Fellow

Prestigious jointly-funded fellowship could be catalyst for myeloma prevention

21 June 2023

Prestigious jointly-funded fellowship could be catalyst for myeloma prevention

Dr Louise Ainley, University College London, has been awarded a Clinical Research Training Fellowship – jointly funded with the Medical Research Council. The three-year project is set to investigate which…

Championing groundbreaking therapies and emotional support

25 June 2019

Championing groundbreaking therapies and emotional support

We are proud to be at the forefront of funding innovative research into gene therapy treatments

Worrying numbers of leukaemia patients are being misdiagnosed or waiting too long for a blood test, say leading UK leukaemia charities

4 September 2022

Worrying numbers of leukaemia patients are being misdiagnosed or waiting too long for a blood test, say leading UK leukaemia charities

Patients in the UK face “the luck of the draw” when presenting with leukaemia symptoms. GPs are often left without adequate support to provide blood tests or process the results…