A brave 10-year-old girl is making a recovery after doctors removed an aggressive tumour from her kidney – which was ‘the size and shape of a rugby ball’.
And little Skye Aitman, who lost all of her treasured long hair through extensive chemotherapy, one day dreams of regrowing her beloved locks.
The Amble girl has endured a tough battle against Wilms’ tumour – a type of kidney cancer in children – since she was diagnosed in November, aged nine.
The disease was at an advanced point – known as stage 4 – and had spread to her lung.
Earlier this year, the youngster had two crucial surgeries to help save her life. The first was to remove the giant tumour, which resulted in Skye losing one of her kidneys and part of her colon.
This was followed by keyhole surgery to remove the disease from her lung.
In what has been a gruelling journey, including having to endure radiotherapy, Skye lost about a stone in weight and currently uses a nasogastric tube for nutritional support.
Her parents, Richard Aitman, 40, and Michelle Southern, 33, say their beloved daughter, who still requires chemotherapy, has battled bravely and is on the mend.
Speaking to the Gazette from their Dandsfield Square home, Michelle said: “We are taking it day by day, but Skye is making quite a good recovery. After her operations, the doctors think they have got all of the tumour.
“We haven’t officially got an end date yet and she is still going through chemotherapy, but then we will find out if she is in the clear, but as far as we know, she is now tumour free.
“But we couldn’t believe it when the doctors said that the tumour in her kidney was the size and shape of a rugby ball.
“It was a shock to the system when she was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour in November. She had been crying and feeling poorly and we are lucky that we found out about the tumour when we did.
“It has been a very hard and tiring time and the hospital has been her second home, but she has not let any of it phase her and she has stayed positive throughout her ordeal.
“If Skye can deal with it without grumbling, then we can.”
One of the things that does disappoint the youngster is the loss of her long hair. Skye, who was at hospital yesterday for a kidney test, does occasionally wear a wig to cover her bald head, but she dreams of the day that she can style her own hair once again.
Richard, who has a ‘special’ tattoo of Skye on his arm, said: “She had long hair before she was diagnosed with the tumour, but she lost it very quickly after starting chemotherapy.
“Her hair is starting to spring back a little bit now, but she wants her hair back more than anything. She really does want it to grow back.
“To be honest, she just wants to have her old life back and get back to normality.”
Skye attends the South Avenue site of Amble’s James Calvert Spence College, but missed nearly a full term of education during her ordeal. She started to go back a few weeks before the summer holidays and her parents hope she can return in September.
Courageous Skye, who lives at home with eight-year-old brother Connor, is a wannabe hairdresser. Among those who she practises on, Skye often styles the locks of her support worker Monica Dooley, from the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, who spends time in hospital with the youngster to give her parents a much-needed break from the ward.
And recently, thanks to a donation from Newcastle College, Skye has been gifted a box of hairdressing goodies and a hair model to hone her skills. Skye admits she is delighted with the presents and uses them regularly.
Monica, who is part of the charity’s Durham care team, said: “Among the emotional and practical support, Skye also counts on me to be her hair model. When I arrive on the ward, the first thing Skye does is reach for the brush and hairbands.
“The next two hours involve me sitting there having my hair pulled into a number of wild and whacky hairstyles. I’m then marched around the ward so that I can show off my gorgeous locks.
“But, in a bid to relieve the boredom for Skye when I am not around, I contacted some local hairdressing colleges to see if they had any old dummy heads to lend to her.
“I was overwhelmed by the positive responses we received from people who wished to donate brand new dummy heads and accessories and Newcastle College was one of the colleges keen to get involved.”
Newcastle College was only too happy to help. Kellie Campbell, section manager at the college, said: “When we heard about Skye, we were touched and really wanted to help.
“We turned it into a bit of a project and had some of the students make up a box of items and personalised it for Skye. We’re so pleased that we’re able to help make her time in hospital as enjoyable as possible.”
The Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity provides expert social palliative care to families when their child has a life-threatening or terminal illness. The Durham care team currently supports 84 families across Northumberland and the North East.
Rainbow Trust relies almost entirely on voluntary donations and through the outstanding generosity of its supporters is able to help more than 1,600 families a year throughout England. For more information, visit rainbowtrust.org.uk