Sheila Appiah: My daughter’s story

When Sheila’s daughter, Imogin, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) at the age of three, she was devastated. However, it was Imogin’s courage that kept her mother going, even after her passing. Here, Sheila shares her daughter’s story.

Before Imogin’s diagnosis, I had been working and studying in the beauty and hotel industry, travelling across Europe for my job. I soon returned to London, where I began to bring up my daughter, Imogin.

Everything seemed fine, just perfect. She was cute, chatty, intelligent and had a normal routine and normal life. Until one day, when I collected her from the nursery when she was nearly three years old, the words came out of the blue: “Mummy, my leg!”

I asked her what was wrong and she said it was hurting, patting the side of it. After a week of pain in her leg, I took her to the doctors, but it was suspected she just had growing pains.

Over the coming months, the weight loss manifested itself, and the pain in her leg became more severe. I kept pushing for tests and they couldn’t find a diagnosis. She was tested for sickle cell disease, but it wasn’t that. Why was this happening to my daughter?

I went to an appointment with my GP and used the opportunity to mention Imogin’s symptoms again. She was a very experienced GP (who has now retired) and she pushed for further tests.

Finally, after many tests and x-rays, a diagnosis. “Is it treatable?” I asked. My voice was shaking and my mouth was dry. They told me that Imogin had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Imogin began treatment straight away, and I ended up taking a six-year break from my career to care for her. She faced her diagnosis and treatment like a soldier. She was positive throughout all aspects, even through harsh chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She wore bright colours and formed bonds with the doctors, nurses and other children, who were also having treatment, with absolute positivity, vigour and colour! She was often very ill, but would come back fighting. It’s something I will never forget.

She also agreed to home tuition when her neutrophils were low, and exceeded as a pupil at school when possible. She enjoyed trips, time at school with her peers, and told me to remain positive, even in her darkest days.

Then I was told that the treatment was not eradicating the leukaemia permanently, and that Imogin would need a bone marrow transplant to survive. We campaigned and connected ourselves with various charities and opted for media exposure to try and find a match. Finally, a stem cell transplant was offered as a final resort.

The stem cells were from a three-month-old baby in America, whose mother had kindly agreed to donate the stem cells from the umbilical cord. The cord had been frozen and stored for future use. Imogin had the cells transplanted into her blood stream, where they found their own way to her bone marrow. I prayed and gave thanks.

This gave Imogin three months of life and a beautiful time with me and my family to enjoy and say goodbye. Then, she passed away peacefully on 23rd January 2010 in my arms at home, aged seven.

Shortly after her passing, Imogin’s spirit seemed stronger than ever. I had been working with an agency and found it beneficial to me, as it started the ball rolling for social interaction once again. However, deep down in my heart I felt that I had more to give.

I would use this as a form of counselling to strengthen me and help me to move on. Working in beauty brand development helped give my life purpose once again.

I remember being able to deal with the most challenging days with the support of Leukaemia Care, whom I cannot thank enough. They were always a phone call away to support me as a mother in desperate need of some validation of the whole situation. The panic attacks, the out of the blue palpitations and the happy and not so happy days! What a great team. They even helped me to start up a support group at my local hospital.

I am not the same Sheila, just different; sometimes happy, sometimes not. I miss Imogin every second. In fact, I am consumed with grief as I have lost my child and best friend. I still feel like a mother, and act like a mother through my management. That’s how I keep my mental health in check, by contributing to society. I treat my customers like gold because I feel that they are keeping me here. This is all part of the agreement between myself and my beloved daughter: to “just carry on”.


Large Granular Lymphocytic Leukaemia (LGLL)

Large granular lymphocytic leukaemia (LGLL) is a rare blood cancer. Within these webpages, you will find out what it is, the symptoms to look out for and treatment options.

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