‘Sheffield Children’s Hospital staff who saved my life inspired me to become a doctor’

Helen Singleton at Sheffield Children's Hospital.
Helen Singleton at Sheffield Children's Hospital.

A childhood cancer survivor credits the staff at Sheffield Children’s Hospital as the inspiration behind her dreams of becoming a doctor.

Helen Singleton, from Whirlow in Sheffield, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the age of six, a condition which affects around 325 children in the UK every year and requires immediate treatment.

Helen Singleton during her cancer treatment.

Helen Singleton during her cancer treatment.

Now in the second year of a medical degree at the University of Leicester, the talented and determined teenager has just given her backing to a new charity appeal to transform the ward which saved her life.

She said: “It needed doing when I was there 12 years ago, so it definitely needs renovating now! It will make a huge difference. When you see the new wing, you really hope something similar can be done for the cancer patients.

“That’s why this appeal is so important to me, because children with cancer can have much better facilities than I did - a place to make their own, have a good night’s sleep and recover in an environment built for them.

“I’d just like to say thank you to the nurses, doctors and all the other staff who helped me through my treatment. I am really grateful and I know how lucky I have been to have had such excellent care.”

Helen Singleton with the Children's Hospital Charity's Angela Dunn on the cancer ward.

Helen Singleton with the Children's Hospital Charity's Angela Dunn on the cancer ward.

Recalling her diagnosis, the 19-year-old said: “I kept having neck pains and was persistently unwell and I then was okay for a couple of weeks.

“One morning I actually faked that I was ill, as I didn’t want to go to school, so my mum took me to the GP.”

Because of her age, Helen was shielded from comprehending the seriousness of her condition, but the impact on her family was more profound.

“I think my parents were more upset than me when I was diagnosed, I didn’t take a lot of it in,” she said.

“Instead I remember being mesmerised by the electronic beds going up and down. I think I just thought my condition was a normal thing, but I know now it wasn’t.

“My mum had lost her brother to cancer less than two weeks before, so she had no time to process it and I remember my dad cried a lot which isn’t like him at all.

“Neither my sister nor my brother really understood what was going on. My brother even asked if I was going to die. But there wasn’t really time to think. We all just had to get on with it, because the day after I was diagnosed treatment began.”

Helen’s treatment journey would last two and a half years, but proved to be the catalyst for her fascination with medicine.

“I used to measure and take my own medication and I was really interested in everything that was going on around me at the hospital,” she said.

“It’s grown from there and becoming a doctor became my ambition. There’s nothing else I’d rather do!”

“The staff were amazing, they went above and beyond in everything they did. They’re an inspiration to me and that’s how I’d like to be when I become a doctor.”

The £2.75m appeal the Children’s Hospital Charity has just launched aims to deliver a brand new home-from-home space for patients, with greater privacy and more natural light.

In 2018, for the first time, the ward had to turn patients away due to a lack of beds. But the transformed ward will increase both the beds and the space for children to recover, who have among the longest stays in the hospital.

Consultant paediatric oncologist, Dr Dan Yeomanson, said: “We’re always going to deliver the same quality of care, but this appeal is about the patient experience and that’s why the charity funding is so important.

“The NHS can provide a level of kit and specification which is functional, but the Children’s Hospital Charity’s support allows us to make it the best we can.”