Being 13 can be tough on any young girl, but Skye Duncan from Gartloch took it all in her stride, while learning to adapt to life without her right arm.
Looking back over the “worst year of their life”, her mum Ann (48) is paying tribute to her daughter for her courageous battle against an aggressive form of bone cancer.
“She has had to learn to do everything with her left arm on top of being so ill and dealing with the ghastly chemo. And not once did she feel sorry for herself. She’s been so brave and this has made this horrible nightmare so much easier for me and the rest of the family,” said Ann.
“I honestly don’t know how she has done it. We have just come back from holiday and she was fine being on the beach in her swimming costume. She was also throwing herself into all the water sports and even an inflatable assault course. There’s no stopping this girl.”
Exactly a year ago the Duncan family were given the devastating news that Skye, who has a twin sister Sara, had Osteosarcoma.
Skye had a sore arm for a few weeks but it was a fall from a banana boat on holiday which saw them attend A&E and Glasgow Royal Infirmary on their return. Just days later came the news that she had a large tumour in the arm and then that it was cancerous.
Ann said: “Mr Duncan carried out the biopsy on the Tuesday and told us he didn’t need to wait her the results to know it was cancer. He said when he tried to put the needle into the bone it was soft as a sponge.”
As this was all happening, one of Skye’s big brothers, Sam (17) was preparing to fly to the States to take up a footballing scholarship.
Ann said: “We thought the 2nd of August was going to be the worst day of the year for us, with Sam going away. Little did we realise what else would be happening two days before. Sam did go off to America but came back a few weeks later; there was so much going on and he couldn’t bear being away from her.”
Skye was admitted to the Royal Hospital for Children under the care of orthopaedic surgeon Mr Rod Duncan as well as cancer specialists in Ward 6a. Despite intensive chemotherapy, Skye’s condition started to deteriorate rapidly during September.
The decision came that her right arm had to be amputated.
“The minute the arm left her she improved rapidly. She got out of bed four hours after surgery. She hadn’t been able to get out of bed for weeks. Whatever they did in that surgery worked. She went in grey and came out looking amazing with her wee rosy cheeks back. It was like the poison can been cut away,” said Ann.
Ten months of chemo followed, ending on her 14th birthday on the 17th May. During this all, Skye went to her school, Eastbank Academy whenever she could.
She said: “I just kept going in when I could. I’ve just had to learn to do most things with one arm. I remember writing an essay about being cancer free but I wasn’t happy with how it looked, so I re-wrote it three times till I was happy with it. All my teachers and everyone in the school have been amazing.”
Looking back on her time in ward 6a, Skye and her family have many fond memories, despite what they were going through.
Skye said: “It might sound daft but I miss the nurses. They were amazing. You would think because of the job they do they might be sad all the time but it’s the opposite. They kept us all going and were so funny. The staff make it 100% better when they sit with you and make jokes. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They let my pals come up to visit me every week and we even ordered in pizza. I also had a pyjama party at my birthday. These things make you feel normal for a wee while.”
Mum Ann agrees: “We need to thank Mr Duncan too; he’s been unbelievable. The whole year while she was going through her chemo, he kept popping up to see her in 6a. He’s a busy man and he didn’t need to but he did. We joked about us having the same second name. Honestly, if Skye was his daughter he couldn’t have done more for her.”
Shortly after Skye was discharged from the Royal Hospital for Children, Ann received an email which brought great news. While in hospital Skye had entered a poster competition run by Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity to encourage young patients to drink and eat ice lollies before surgery in order to stay hydrated.
Skye said: “I only entered it because I was a bit bored one day and it was something to do. I had no idea I was going to win it. I was really pleased as it was the first drawing I had really done since learning to use my left arm.”
Mr Rod Duncan said: “Like many children, Skye has been incredible in the face of a life-changing diagnosis and the support that Skye has received from her family has been amazing. They are an inspiration to those of us who have been looking after her.”
Ann gets emotional when she thinks about all the love and support the family has received over a very tough year.
She said: “I am immensely proud of Skye and how she has coped with everything she’s had to deal with. She just has an amazing way of doing everything she can to get her old life back. The support we have had has been incredible. How can we thank everyone? The hospital, the nurses, our friends and family, Skye’s school, her pals, our neighbours and even complete strangers who donated to her just giving page. We couldn’t have got here without you all.”