Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – Aspen’s journey with leukaemia

14 September 2023

Childhood cancer affects 150 children in Yorkshire every year.

This month is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognise and show our support for the children and families affected by this disease. For the Smith-Morris family from Wetherby, their son Aspen’s leukaemia diagnosis was earth-shattering.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

In May 2020, five-year-old Aspen had been ill for a couple of weeks before his diagnosis, with what mum and dad, Ste and Kira, thought might be a bad case of the flu. When he was seen by a doctor, they were told to take him to hospital straight away; a blood test revealed he had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. After a transfer in the middle of the night to Leeds General Infirmary, Aspen was stuck on the ward for three weeks, and on a few occasions had to isolate in a side room, the family unable to interact with others.

Ste, Aspen’s dad said:

After that initial three-week stay, Aspen kept getting temperatures and would consequently need to be readmitted to hospital for a few days. This happened every six to eight weeks or so, and often a few times in a row.

A couple of times, Aspen was discharged from hospital and then got another temperature less than 24 hours later. Aspen and I were back and forth to the hospital so much, sometimes we didn’t see the other members of the family.

Aspen didn’t go to school for eighteen months, and Kira took a year off work to look after him. With the care and medication he needed, it was difficult for anyone else to help. The reality of a cancer diagnosis is extremely hard on families: practically, emotionally, and financially. Their world becomes the hospital, their peers become the hospital staff.

Since Aspen’s diagnosis, the family have been supported by children’s cancer charity, Candlelighters, who for over 45 years have supported families across Yorkshire when their child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Ste said:

The first time we met Candlelighters was our first morning in hospital. The Candlelighters Dinner Supervisor, Elaine, gave us a very warm welcome, and explained what Candlelighters do.

Elaine and the rest of the Candlelighters team were a huge support during that time. They would often sit with Aspen while I went out for a walk, which was such a fantastic help. The Candlelighters team were like a security blanket in the hospital. They make that clinical environment feel more human.

Candlelighters provide vital support for children and their families on the ward, in their community, and for as long as a family may need a helping hand during the most difficult time. From a much-needed cup of tea on the ward when you don’t have a spare five minutes, to talking therapies for the whole family to process and work through worries, Candlelighters are there from the beginning with a huge range of emotional, practical, and financial support.

Ste, Aspen’s dad said:

The support from the Candlelighters team on the ward was invaluable. Having someone I could talk to, to help process everything and understand what was going on, was such a huge help. I sat in the ward a few times and just cried because I didn’t know what to do. Candlelighters got me through those times.

They always had time to listen to me and, because they see childhood cancer every day, they really understand what’s going on – better than even your family members could.


Three years on from his diagnosis, Aspen, now eight, is doing well, and is due to finish his treatment this month: Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Ste, Aspen’s dad said:

It’s actually quite a scary prospect as we’ll lose the safety net of the hospital, but it’s such a comfort to know that Candlelighters will always be there if we need them.


CEO of Candlelighters, Emily Wragg, said:

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is an important time to gather and show our support for the children and their families affected by this heartbreaking disease. Around 150 families across Yorkshire receive the terrible news every year that their child has cancer. We are continually humbled working with so many brave children, mums, dads and grandparents and we are so thankful that the people of Yorkshire donate and fundraise to ensure these children and their families receive the support they need to get through such terrible times.


Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

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