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Mum spotted telltale signs before son, 11, was diagnosed with leukaemia

today16 September 2022 1

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When Yusuf Ali suddenly went off his food and started feeling unusually tired, his observant mum Tasneem knew something wasn’t quite right. After an unsuccessful visit to their local doctor, she – a GP herself – decided to carry out a blood test on Yusuf at home.

It turned out that he, aged 11, was living with a very aggressive form of blood cancer which would have killed him without urgent treatment. Within days, Yusuf was in intensive care and would spend the next three years undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

The whole ordeal, Wales Online reports, has had a major impact on the previously active boy who continues to avoid mass gatherings and has been unable to attend school regularly. His heartbroken family are now holding out hope that Yusuf, who loves golf and horse riding, will finally finish his treatment this December and will be free of this cruel disease once and for all.

“I got a call from our local A&E [after I’d done the blood test] to say he was very sick and that I needed to bring him into hospital straight away,” recalled Tasneem, 41, who said a lumbar puncture was carried out to confirm Yusuf’s leukaemia diagnosis. “I was absolutely devastated. For me it felt like the world was going to end.

“This is my first child, and he’s such a good boy. He was like the ‘dream child’ as he’d never had any issues with his health. I couldn’t even remember the last time he had Calpol.”

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Tasneem, who lives in Leicester but is originally from Cardiff, said just a week before his diagnosis in August 2019, Yusuf was white water rafting in Cardiff Bay. But over the course of the summer his tiredness had got progressively worse. “He was also getting really fussy with his food which was out of character for him,” she said. “Then on the final week when we were in Cardiff he said he was so full he felt sick – but I knew he’d not eaten any of his food.

“When I brought him back home to Leicester I gave him his favourite meals, but he didn’t touch any of it – so I took him to his GP. He had a little bit of congestion and nausea but apart from that it was nothing. The GP said there was nothing wrong with him and that he was absolutely fine, but as his mother I knew he wasn’t right.”

Yusuf was found to have acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of cancer that affects white blood cells. “It’s one of the most common types of blood cancer in children and it’s very aggressive,” Tasneem explained. “If it’s not caught in time it can be very dangerous.”

Within 24 hours of his admission to a hospital in Leicester he was blue-lighted to Nottingham Children’s Hospital and had an operation to put central lines in. “It was just a really bad situation. He was in Nottingham for about a week and then he was transferred back to Leicester. He was in hospital for about two months straight. Our day-to-day way of life completely changed.”

Because this form of leukaemia is so aggressive, particularly in boys, Tasneem said the typical course of chemotherapy lasts three years. “His body is now so tired from the treatment and he’s not tolerating it very well. He’s on such a high dose of steroids; I’m a GP and I haven’t seen these doses prescribed to adults, apart from people with brain tumours.

“To look at, you wouldn’t have any idea of what his body has gone through. He’s been very strong and it’s amazing how resilient he is. If he has a cold he ends up in hospital – but he just gets on with it. It’s a very difficult and unpredictable journey.”

The goal is to finish 14-year-old Yusuf’s cancer treatment by the end of this year, Tasneem added. In the meantime, the family have helped raise money for Blood Cancer UK in a bid to improve research into treatments. In October, his uncle Nadeem Afzal, 38, is running the Wizz Air Cardiff Half Marathon for the charity.

Nadeem, who works for used car dealership Ron Skinner and Sons in Cardiff, said: “It’s been a very tough time for Yusuf and his family. The treatment upsets his stomach and his liver and has made side effects such as mouth ulcers, hair loss, sickness and he is very vulnerable to infections.

“Yusuf also has a younger brother and sister so there have been times during the pandemic where they have all had to isolate and be extremely careful so that Yusuf didn’t catch Covid while his immune system was so low. My sister stopped working for a year after his diagnosis so she could take care of him.”

He added: “The charity Blood Cancer UK is obviously very close to our hearts. I want to run for them so we can support research to provide safer, more targeted treatments for children with leukaemia. Treatments can be long and have dangerous side effects so more research will help shorten treatment options.”

The Cardiff Half is on track to generate its 20 millionth pound in fundraising at the 19th edition of the event this year. Race organisers are urging the public to get behind the event to help it reach this incredible milestone. Over £3m is raised each year via partnerships with over 90 charities. You can donate to Nadeem’s JustGiving page by going here. You can find out more about the Cardiff Half Marathon here.

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