Bravery award for the young leukaemia survivor whose life was saved by her sister
A schoolgirl recovering from leukaemia after a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister has been recognised with a special national bravery award.
Ruby Leaning was six years old when she collapsed at school in Grimsby in January 2020. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.
After being given a bone marrow transplant from her sister Mabel, who was just two at the time, she went on to recover from the disease.
Now aged nine, Ruby has received a Cancer Research UK Star Award for the courage she showed throughout her treatment, much of which she faced alone due to lockdown restrictions.
Her mother, Rebecca, said: "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."
Mrs Leaning said the cancer journey started suddenly, as there had been few indicators of Ruby’s disease before she collapsed.
“She was tired and pale, but that was it. I distinctly remember on Christmas Eve thinking she looked really pale, but she’d just had a cold, so your mind doesn’t jump to cancer," she said.
Recalling when Ruby collapsed, Mrs Leaning added: “I got a call from the school and when I got there the headmistress was waiting for me, and I just knew in my gut something serious was going on."
Ruby was so ill she did not realise her mother had arrived and "wasn't making any sense".
She was taken to hospital, where she vomited and started looking better, but a bruise developed on her head which Mrs Leaning recognised as signs of leukaemia.
“I’m a chiropractor by trade, so I’ve got a bit of medical knowledge and my first thought was leukaemia," she said.
"When we were asked into a formal meeting room I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience - it was the worst moment of my life.”
After six weeks of unsuccessful treatment, doctors advised that a bone marrow transplant would be Ruby's only hope of recovery.
Making reference to the hit novel which tells the story of a sister who saves her sibling's life, Mrs Leaning said: "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."
Mrs Leaning said she felt "awful and helpless", but that when husband Nick rang to say Mabel had been confirmed as a match she "burst into tears in the middle of the train" she was on.
"I call [Mabel] my shooting star. It was the lowest moment of my life and she just flew over.”
Ruby had to have constant chemotherapy to be ready for a transplant but once it was scheduled she then got Covid.
“We obviously had to delay the transplant by two weeks and we had to have a conversation about whether she could go into this with Covid in her system because we didn’t know how the drugs were going to react. She was the first case worldwide where this decision had to be made," said Mrs Leaning.
“We were told the leukaemia was going to kill her, so we had to take the chance.”
The transplant happened eight days after Mabel’s second birthday and three days before Ruby’s seventh.
In January 2021, Ruby returned to school and now dreams of becoming of a nurse. Mabel, who is affectionately called "Mabel Marrow" by family and friends, is also now at the same school.
“She loves the Star Award," Mrs Leaning said. "It means a lot for the whole family and her friends to see her get that little bit of extra recognition."
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