Menu Close


Keep up to date with all the latest news and upcoming events at the Children’s Cancer Unit.

International Childhood Cancer Day: Zoe and Sophie’s story

15 Feb 2024

Today we are celebrating International Childhood Cancer Day and as we pay tribute to all the wonderful children across Northern Ireland who have been impacted by childhood cancer, we share the story of two very special twin sisters, Zoe and Sophie, and how a Leukaemia diagnosis for Zoe impacted their lives.

CCUC: Tell us about Zoe’s diagnosis and treatment journey
Leah: Zoe was diagnosed with ALL Leukaemia in April 2022, aged four. It came as a massive shock as she hadn’t really been feeling that unwell.

As a child, Zoe was always picking up colds and bugs and I always felt her immune system was quite low. Just before she was diagnosed, I noticed she had become very pale, which was unlike her as she was usually a very swarthy child. There had been an outbreak of Hepatitis around that time and when I got a call from her nursery school teacher to say that Zoe didn’t seem to be herself, we wondered if it could have been that, so I decided to get her checked out. I took her to A&E at the Ulster Hospital to get bloods taken. Even when her bloods came back really low, I didn’t for one minute think it would be cancer.

Everything happened so quickly and we didn’t really have much time to process the news. Zoe had a central line fitted and straight away began seven months of really intense chemotherapy. We spent a lot of time in hospital as Zoe was so unwell. She completely changed as a child. She had lost her hair with the chemo and was so weak. She barely spoke and couldn’t walk unaided, so I carried her everywhere for seven months. It was heart breaking to see her so poorly, but she really was so brave and so resilient, especially when it came to taking her medication and learning how to walk and talk again.

Zoe is now on maintenance treatment and I’m so delighted to see how well she’s doing. She’s come so far and I’m really proud of her. We couldn’t have got to where we are without the amazing consultants, nurses, Play Specialists and everyone else in the Children’s Cancer Unit.

CCUC: Zoe’s very lucky to have a special twin sister, Sophie. How did Zoe’s diagnosis impact her?
Leah: Because we had to spend so much time at the hospital with Zoe, Sophie had to live with her grandparents a lot of the time which I felt so guilty about. Sophie really missed Zoe and me, but she’s been amazing and has been so resilient the whole time.

It was really hard on Sophie as Zoe needed so much attention, especially when she was so unwell. She had to fend for herself a lot but she just got on with it. I tried to spend one-to-one time with Sophie when I could to make sure she felt special and knew that none of this was her fault. We were so lucky to have family step in and help to look after Sophie, so she had lots of fun and everyone spoiled her and brought her for lovely trips and days out.

One of the hardest things was seeing Sophie start school on her own without Zoe. It’s such a big milestone and as a mum of twins, you always think they’ll do all the big things together, so that was really tough. But Sophie took it all in her stride and fitted right in. And Zoe loved hearing all her stories about school and even helping with homework!

CCUC: Do you notice any differences between the two girls, especially after Zoe’s diagnosis?
Leah: Zoe is definitely the pampered princess! Sophie is probably more self-sufficient and is able to do a lot more on her own. She’s always looking out for Zoe and for others and loves coming with me to the shops to get what we need- she’s like a little mummy. Zoe recognises that and plays on it, but the two girls are so close- they’re great. Zoe will always look for Sophie when trying new things or going somewhere new, whereas Sophie is definitely more independent. So much of this comes from the time when Zoe was sick so it’s understandable. I think things would have been so much harder for Zoe now if she didn’t have Sophie by her side.

CCUC: How is life for the girls now?
Leah: I feel like we’re close to getting back to normal. We’re all able to spend a lot more time together and the girls are doing so much more together too and spending time with their big sister Lyla. Luckily, Zoe was able to start school in January of the girls’ P1 year so she didn’t miss too much. It was great that she had Sophie there already and it made everything a lot easier for her. They’re in P2 now and are both doing so well. They go to swimming lessons together and are both interested in dance and sports.

CCUC: How would Zoe describe Sophie?
Zoe: Sophie likes football and loves the colour blue! She’s funny and helpful and she’s my best friend.

CCUC: How would Sophie describe Zoe?
Sophie: Zoe’s crazy, funny and a bit quirky! She loves Stitch and eating and she’s my best friend.

CCUC: What’s next for Zoe and Sophie- have they got any exciting plans coming up this year?
Leah: The biggest thing we’re looking forward to this year is Zoe ringing the bell on 28th June- we can’t wait and we’re all counting down the days until then.

I can’t wait for Zoe’s treatment to finish so we can move forward as a family with hopefully a lot less trips to the hospital. The girls are loving school and love spending time with their big sister Lyla. We’ve got a trip to Haven planned after Zoe rings the bell and once she’s able to leave the UK, we’ll definitely be booking a holiday abroad!

I’m so thankful to everyone at the hospital and at The Children’s Cancer Unit Charity for helping us get to this point.

If you would like to share your experiences of childhood cancer, please get in touch at