‘She’s a little fighter!’ How brave little Arabella fought back against deadly leukaemia
- Credit: Archant
Even as she faced a life-threatening cancer diagnosis aged just four, brave Arabella Scannell told her family: “I don’t want you to cry. I don’t want us to be down.”
The Ipswich youngster's life changed forever one afternoon, when her mother Ellie was told by doctors to collect her from St Joseph's College urgently - because they had discovered she had leukaemia.
Having been a happy, carefree child one moment, she was fighting for her life the next - with the next year dominated by two gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
The devastating condition caused her to lose her hair, live away from home for months and - most upsettingly for Arabella - miss months of school and being with her friends.
But throughout it all the most positive and resilient person was Arabella herself, who even told her own family that despite everything: "I want us to be happy."
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It is a remarkable tale of resilience which has earned her the title of "little fighter", with her mother saying: "She gives us strength."
And while she still needs several years of check-ups before she can say she has finally recovered, next week Arabella will mark her remarkable fightback by taking part in her school's colour run to raise money for others with the condition.
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'How can this be happening to us?'
When Mrs Scannell, 39, received a phone call from Ipswich Hospital on May 4 telling her to bring Arabella back in just an hour after a routine blood test, the mother of three said: "Straight away I knew something was wrong."
After being told her daughter had leukaemia, Mrs Scannell said: "I don't think I truly understood concept of what was happening.
"I don't think anyone can unless you've had a child diagnosed with cancer.
"When someone tells you that kind of information, it's kind of surreal. We're a normal family. We just live a normal life. Why us?
"I don't think we could grasp it was cancer for a while. We kept thinking: 'How can this be happening to us?'"
Her husband Mark, 41, even passed out when told the devastating news.
When first told of her illness, one of Arabella's first questions was whether she would have to miss school.
For a girl who loves school and being with her friends, it was the most upsetting news of all.
But Mrs Scannell said it was the only time she cried throughout the whole of her gruelling treatment.
After being taken by blue light ambulance from Ipswich to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, Arabella had tests to see whether she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia or the rarer and more aggressive the Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).
Unfortunately, the tests revealed she had AML - and it was to be just the first in a series of setbacks.
Arabella underwent a gruelling round of chemotherapy which caused her to lose her hair and left her feeling drained.
But the chemotherapy didn't work, meaning a second round of treatment and a bone marrow transplant.
Even finding a match was a challenge, as her brothers Bailey, 15, and Taylor, 10, and her adoptive sister Zoe, eight, were not matches.
Blood cancer charity DKMS was able to help find a matching blood stem cell donor.
However it meant Arabella effectively had to move to Bristol for the treatment and spend a long time in isolation afterwards, because of the risk of getting an infection.
Even then she contracted the BK virus, which can be common after transplants - further hampering her recovery.
During her treatment she also had to be pump fed, because she was not able to take on enough calories and was losing weight.
But despite everything that was thrown at her, Arabella stayed unrelentingly positive.
The keen dancer refused to let the illness get her down and was frequently pictured waltzing around the hospital in a bid to stay positive.
"She's a little fighter," said Mrs Scannell.
"She gives us strength.
"The only thing she cried about was being told she wasn't able to go back to school."
She told us: 'I don't want you to cry. I don't want to see us down. I want us to be happy.'
"I couldn't believe my five-year-old was telling us not to cry.
"Everything in her was telling her to be well. She wants to be active. That's what kept her going, her fight for life."
Returning to school earlier this year was a huge accomplishment for Arabella, who is now in remission and frequently tells her mum: "No child should die."
And on Wednesday, May 15 she will take part in a colour run being organised by the school to raise money for charity.
"Her school can't believe how well she is doing," said Mrs Scannell.
"She just carries on fighting. She doesn't let much get her down.
"We've all gained in strength from watching her be so strong."
Call for blood stem cell donors
Blood cancer charity DKMS is urging more people to sign blood stem cell donors so that more people like Arabella can be saved.
It says that 2,000 people in the UK are in need of a blood stem cell transplant at any one time - but that only one in three will find a matching donor in their own family.
That means DKMS needs a bank of donors aged between 17 and 55 who are in general good health.
Most donations are done through a peripheral blood stem cell collection, a method that is very similar to giving blood.
It involves blood being taken from one of the donor's arms and a machine separates the blood stem cells from it.
The donor's blood is then returned to them through their other arm. This is an outpatient procedure that is usually completed in four to six hours.
The remaining 10% of donations are made through a bone marrow collection.
People can sign up for a home swab kit to identify who they can might a match with by visiting the charity's website.