Girl who lost arm to cancer wins competition with first left-handed artwork

A teenage girl who had an arm amputated to help cure her cancer has won a competition after learning to draw with her opposite hand.

Skye Duncan was diagnosed with bone cancer aged 13 last summer, causing the bone in her right arm to become spongy.

Chemotherapy failed to halt the disease and she had the arm amputated at the shoulder.

After chemotherapy, she has been declared cancer free.

Now, her first left-handed picture has won a hospital poster competition run by Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity encouraging young patients to stay hydrated before surgery.

She said: “I was waiting to get released from hospital and the play staff came in and handed it out and I think I just done it out of boredom, not thinking anything of it, and then my mum got the email saying that I’d won it. She was just ecstatic about it.

“I think it was the first time I really tried drawing with my left hand and it turned out better than I thought it would’ve because I thought it would’ve taken a wee while to get that back.

“Writing only took me weeks, I just kind of went for it and I was impressed with how I did.

“It was three weeks after my surgery that I first wrote, I wrote an essay. I rewrote it until I was happy with my writing – about three times.

“I’d just been declared cancer free. My English teacher’s been dead good with me so I wrote an essay about telling me I’m cancer free and I gave it to her, as me telling her that I was cancer free.”

She continued to attend school throughout her treatment when able, at times on the one of her one and a half hospital-free days a week.

Skye’s mother Ann, 48, said: “I was over the moon because she hadn’t drawn with her left hand, she just had to learn to write again with her left.

Skye Duncan with her twin sister Sara
Skye with her twin sister Sara (right) (Jane Barlow/PA)

“It was probably just the first picture she drew with her left so to win I just thought was amazing.

“It’s just another wee thing you’re ticking off – every day you’re ticking, she can still do that, she can still do this.

“She just finds a way of just getting back to her old life as best she can.”

Skye, from Gartloch, Glasgow, developed a sore arm last year and doctors initially believed it was due to muscle pain or posture and prescribed physiotherapy.

After falling from a banana boat on holiday, she could not move her arm and immediately attended hospital on returning home.

Within days, the teenager and her family were told she had cancer.

Chemotherapy failed to help and Skye was told her arm would be amputated.

After the seven-and-a-half hour operation at Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children last September, she improved rapidly and has been declared cancer free following 10 months of chemotherapy.

Skye Duncan with mother and sister
Mother Ann Duncan with Skye and Sara (Jane Barlow/PA)

Her last session of chemotherapy was on her 14th birthday on May 17 and her friends had a pyjama party for her in hospital.

She said: “For my birthday we all got matching jammies and they all came up and we ordered in pizza and dessert. It was good, they made the experience a whole lot better.

She added: “The staff are amazing. They make it much more bearable.

“They make it 100 times better when they sit and they make jokes with you.”

Skye also played jokes on them, including a Halloween prank while buying treats at a supermarket ahead of a chemotherapy treatment.

She said: “It was Halloween at the time so it was just after my surgery.

“We went to the Halloween section and there was this skeleton arm and I took it in and I put it under my sleeve and said to the hospital staff that I didn’t need the chemo any more, that my arm had grown back.

“I think that gave them a lift as well.”

Skye Duncan
Skye Duncan with the poster she designed using her left hand, which won a hospital art competition (Jane Barlow/PA)

Her mother said from their first visit to A&E, everything happened very quickly and when testing Skye’s arm doctors “could put a needle right into the bone, it was so soft”.

She added: “Chemo started the end of August but nothing worked, nothing, she was deteriorating rapidly, so it was a case of the arm had to come off. She was bedridden at this point, could hardly walk, could barely talk to any of us.

“The minute the arm left it was an instant improvement. She got out of bed three or four hours after surgery.

“It was just amazing – it was as if it was just poisoning the life out of her and it had to go.”

To celebrate being declared cancer free, Skye’s brother Sam took her and her twin sister Sara on holiday to Malaga, Spain.

Her mother said: “She was amazing, she did the inflatable assault course. Everybody with two hands struggled and she was up there with one. There’s no stopping this girl.”

She said the support from the hospital, Skye’s school Eastbank Academy, friends, family and neighbours has been overwhelming.

Her surgeon Rod Duncan said: “Like many children, Skye has been incredible in the face of a life-changing diagnosis and the support that Skye has received from her family has been amazing.

“They are an inspiration to those of us who have been looking after her.”

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