Swab to save a child: Sheffield mum of 2-year-old with leukaemia to run stem cell drive in national campaign

Billie and mum Freyja
Billie and mum Freyja

A group of mums of children with cancer are running a UK-wide stem cell donation drive tomorrow, 17 September, with one of the 14 locations in Sheffield.

Volunteers trained by blood cancer charity DKMS will be helping people register as stem cell donors, increasing the chance of finding a life-saving match, between 9am and 2pm on Sunday at 300 Attercliffe Common.

Freyja Hartham’s 2-year-old daughter Billie was diagnosed with leukaemia in November 2022, and has been receiving intense chemotherapy since then.

Billie with parents Freyja and Zac
Billie with parents Freyja and Zac

Freyja, aged 29, said: “Billie just gets on with it so well, she is not fussed. It has just become normal now, and we are on autopilot to get to the end.

“Billie hasn't actually needed a transplant. If the chemo does its job and the cancer stays away, she won’t need one. But relapse is so common with leukaemia, and if she relapsed now, her only option would be a bone marrow transplant.”

Stem cells, which are found in bone marrow, can specialise into other types of cell. A bone marrow transplant may take place for a number of reasons, but one is to provide new, healthy stem cells which can help directly kill cancer cells.

Tomorrow’s stem cell drive will take place in a car park, in a set-up similar to covid testing. Eligible people between the ages of 17 and 55 will fill in their details and provide three cheek swabs to be sent off to DKMS.

Freyja says the family have got used to this situation being 'the normal', and are looking forward to January 2025
Freyja says the family have got used to this situation being 'the normal', and are looking forward to January 2025

People on the register could be contacted in future and asked if they are still happy to provide stem cells. In 90% of cases, this is a similar process to giving blood.

Freyja added: “It is just a case of seeing on the day how many people get involved. We are aiming for 300 swabs at each location.”

Billie is about to enter maintenance, a less-intense phase of chemotherapy which should hopefully finish in January 2025.

Freyja, partner Zac Turner, and their two children, from Gleadless, are hoping to have a “huge” holiday after this date.

She added: “In January 2025, I know we will just look at each other and think ‘oh my god, what has just happened.’”

More information about stem cell donation and whether or not you are eligible to join the register can be found on DKMS’ website.