Isla is one of the little Ambassadors for the 2022 Good Friday Appeal. The eight-year-old is in remission after spending half her life in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Isla’s parents knew something was wrong five years ago when their bubbly and bright three-year-old daughter was no longer acting like herself.
Isla had gone from being an active happy young child to constantly feeling lethargic, irritable and starting to catch every bug going around.
Isla’s mum Leanne knew something was wrong. Between April and May 2017, she took Isla to the doctor eight times with growing concerns.
Following a blood test, Isla was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow in July 2017. Isla began receiving chemotherapy treatment at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Children’s Cancer Centre immediately.
The day Isla was diagnosed with ALL was the day her family’s whole world felt like it had turned upside-down. They were scared and leaned on the staff at the RCH who assured them that Isla was going to resume full health again.
After three months of treatment, Isla was officially in remission, and after eight months of intensive chemotherapy she was getting back to what she loved doing – dancing and going to preschool.
But two years later in July 2020, Isla relapsed. This time her leukaemia was not only found in her bone marrow, it had also spread to her central nervous system.
“Isla’s relapse was the worst day of our lives,” remembered Leanne.
Having gone through the initial bout of chemotherapy and treatment, they now knew what they were in for and the torturous up-hill battle Isla was about to face once again.
After another round of intense chemotherapy was not showing promising results, Isla was eligible for CAR-T cell therapy, an innovative cancer treatment that allows the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The treatment involves removing a patient’s T cells (a type of immune system cell), re-engineering them in a lab and reinfusing them back into the patient to attack and kill of the cancer cells.
Isla endured CAR-T cell treatment in December 2020 and was cancer-free for 100 days. Three months later in March 2021, it became evident that the CAR-T cells in her body were waning due to the leukaemia cells returning at very low levels in her bone marrow. With this news, Isla received a second infusion of the CAR-T cells before tragedy struck again.
In April 2021, Isla’s cancer had returned with 80 per cent of her bone marrow taken over by leukaemia cells. Two days later, she was back on very intensive chemotherapy treatment in the hopes of bringing her cancer under control for long enough to receive a bone marrow transplant.
This required Isla to isolate and live in a special hospital room for six weeks as she was at very high risk of serious infection. Following this, Isla required an immune therapy treatment to kill the remaining amount of leukaemia in preparation for a stem cell transplant, which was Isla’s only remaining hope for recovery.
In July 2021, Isla received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from an unrelated overseas donor. The stem cell transplant involved one week of intense radiation and chemotherapy in order to prevent rejection, followed by six weeks in the RCH bone marrow transplant suite. Here, Isla waited for her new bone marrow cells to grow and for her organs to recover from all of the intensive treatment.
Fortunately, Isla is now nine months post stem cell transplant and remains in complete remission. She is back to her bubbly self at school and dancing to her little heart’s content.
Although Isla’s family remains positive thanks to the support of her incredible treating team. Led by her oncologist Dr Diane Hanna at the RCH, and the community through the Good Friday Appeal, Isla continues to receive lifesaving support for her cancer care.
“I feel so lucky to have met all of these wonderful people, and I really attribute us getting to where we are today to all of them,” said Leanne.
“Although our family has suffered at times, we are incredibly lucky to have so much support from our family and friends. My children have all grown up a lot faster than they should have, but I’m so proud of us for what we have gotten through together.”