Sixteen years ago, Wimborne mum Natasha Hunt was praying she’d live long enough to see her new baby take his first steps.
Now she sits beside him as he practises for his driving test.
“I can’t believe he’s old enough to learn to drive,” she says.
“It’s wonderful to spend time with my sons as they become adults.”
During the intervening years, Natasha has done all the mum things she dreamed of as she underwent six months of gruelling chemotherapy and treatment at Poole Hospital.
She was isolated from everything and everyone – even fresh air – as she and baby Alfie, who was just three weeks old when she was diagnosed, stayed in the room while she underwent treatment.
“For a good year or so after I came out of hospital I slept next to the open window, even though I was freezing, just to feel the breeze and the air on my face,’ she says.
“It’s silly things like that, you literally take fresh air for granted but when it’s taken away, that’s when you start appreciating it.”
During the past 16 years, however, she’s also been the main fundraiser and focal point for her own charity LEAF – Leukaemia Educating And Fundraising.
Over the years the charity has helped pay for training that the NHS budget didn’t cover, for a leukaemia patient’s sperm to be frozen, to give him a chance at becoming a dad, and for care packs for patients.
Natasha also visits isolated leukaemia and blood cancer patients, bringing care packages or providing a listening ear.
“I went to see a lady who has terrible nausea from the treatment so I put together one or two things that I’d found had helped me,” says Natasha.
“I’ve also been shaving quite a few ladies’ hair recently. I think having it done by someone who has been through it themselves makes it a little bit easier.”
However, she is fearful that much of LEAF’s work may have to stop, due to a lack of funds.
“Everyone’s struggling and it’s a sign of the times but, for a small charity like us, it can be very daunting,” she says.
“Covid hit us hard and I thought it would pick up after the Pandemic, but it hasn’t.
“People haven’t been so willing to come out to events because of this – we had to cancel our golf day because of lack of numbers.”
To save money she runs the charity from her own home and says she will always try to be there for individual patients, but doesn’t want to see the assistance side fade away.
“It’s really hard to do alone; I’d love to have a couple of volunteer fundraisers and to attract a bit more money so we can continue to give this vital help,” she says.
LEAF has paid for cleaning ladies, or for services such as laundry for patients who have no one at home to help them.
And she hopes that just by seeing her, it will give patients hope that they can beat the disease.
“I don’t want to give false hope, and there’s also an element that you don’t want to sound insensitive, but you do want to get the message out there that it’s not all bad news,” she says.
She’ll be saying this loud and proud when she carries the Commonwealth Games torch through Dorset on July 4.
“I was privileged to carry the Olympic torch in 2012 and was amazed to learn I’d been nominated to bear the Commonwealth torch in this Platinum Jubilee year.”
However: “I was even more amazed and so touched to learn that the person who nominated me was Joshua, my eldest son,” she says. “It’s a huge honour, both for my family and for LEAF.”
Natasha is hoping her torch bearing will help raise awareness of her charity and act as a beacon of hope.
“When the boys were little, we were photographed all together when I was discharged from hospital” she says.
“We recently recreated this photo at Kingston Lacy and I couldn’t believe how time has flown.
“I want people to know there are long-term survivors and that we are out here.
“I also want people to know you can survive and thrive and that LEAF may be able to help them.”
Find out more about how to donate to LEAF at: leafcharity.com/
By Faith Eckersall