I have drums to beat since Juliette died – charities we’ve raised money for, and other work I’ve done with bereaved parents I won’t talk about here – it might sound odd, but I needed it to help me survive.
About a year ago, the charity Anthony Nolan put me in touch with an amazing lady called Shaheena. As a baby of six months Shaheena’s niece, Alishba, was diagnosed with a condition that would have killed her without a bone marrow transplant. None of the little girl’s family members was a match, so Shaheena campaigned in their community and across the internet to recruit new donors. Very few came forward and in the end, with her condition dangerously advanced, Alishba was 90% matched with a cord blood donor in New York. Her stem cell transplant happened, and Alishba turned four in November. She’s totally beautiful.
I often think about Katie, the friend Juliette made in hospital who was diagnosed with leukaemia three weeks after she had been. As four-year-olds they sat next to each other in bed, little bald heads bowed together as they made “sticky” pictures with glue and sequins. Over the months they chatted on the phone about their blood counts and chemo regimes – comic, and yet horrific. Katie has in the past few months been signed off her annual checks; a tall teenager of thirteen, declared cured. I don’t know this from Katie’s Mum – I think she found it too hard to keep in touch with me, and I honestly don’t blame her. I’ve been at the sharp end of the struggle too, and to stay positive is essential. Me and my daughter are ghouls in the corner of her eye.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t ever thought, “why Juliette, and not Katie?” but where life is, you have to be glad. I don’t know why or how, but Katie survived and so has Alishba. I wanted to write an article about Shaheena and Alishba, and what more can be done to collect and store life-saving umbilical cord blood in the UK. It’s finally being printed this Saturday in the Times and somewhere, I think Juliette’s cheering.