Tributes as teenage cancer champion Joanna Lamb dies a week after 18th birthday

Joanna Lamb joins Kiltwalk 2018.
Joanna Lamb joins Kiltwalk 2018.
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When Joanna Lamb was just a wee girl she was already showing the strength of spirit, humour and determination that would see her through the last two years of her life.

Born in Edinburgh on Saturday, January 27, 2001 to new parents Angela and Alan, little Joanna grew into a ball of energy who made friends easily and loved to play sports.

Joanna winning Fundraiser of the Year at the Local Hero Awards in 2018. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Joanna winning Fundraiser of the Year at the Local Hero Awards in 2018. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Joanna was “bright and cheery” but was “no shrinking violet” according to mum Angela.

She said: “She wore her heart on her sleeve. If there was something that she wasn’t happy with she would tell you. She was just a lovely girl.”

In her early years Joanna tried ballet but she preferred the energy of team sports, soon playing with the Polonia Phoenix Basketball Club where her dad is still a coach.

Music, golf, her little sister Nicola, who arrived when she was three, and her friends were Joanna’s other loves.

Fundraising with her dad Alan.

Fundraising with her dad Alan.

She had a natural curiosity about life and embraced every opportunity that came her way.

Alan said: “She was one of those people that would give anything a go. And if she made a mistake she didn’t care.”

That drive and resilience meant that even when Joanna developed unexplained knee pain in February 2017 she went on to ace her Higher exams achieving high grades in five subjects.

Worried, Angela and Alan took 16-year-old Joanna to the doctor and the hospital but were advised to rest, ice and elevate the knee.

Joanna with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Greg Macvean

Joanna with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Greg Macvean

Angela said: “She was starting to get a bit frustrated [with the advice] but she sat her Highers and she was in incredible pain and just on paracetamol.”

After entering sixth year at Craigmount High School in June, Joanna’s pain peaked and Angela took her back to A&E.

A week later they discovered that Joanna’s pain was a symptom of a rare form of bone cancer, Osteosarcoma, which only around 20 people are diagnosed with in the UK every year.

The following week Joanna was admitted to ward two of the Sick Kids where she would receive treatment on and off for the next 18 months.

Angela said: “it was really worrying because you don’t know what to do with yourself. I felt maybe I should have been on the phone every day [to try and find out what was wrong with her] but she was so focused on her exams.”

Joanna faced the diagnosis with characteristic grit.

Angela said: “She was obviously very upset but her way of dealing with things was to say, ‘right let’s get on with it’.

“She wanted to know everything so she could digest it.”

When Joanna found out she would lose her hair she decided to cut off her long locks and donate them to the Little Princess Trust, a charity that makes wigs for children and young people living with cancer and other conditions.

The same day as her diagnosis Joanna set up a Facebook page ​called Joanna’s Journey where she posted regular updates on her treatment. Through this page she raised more than £20,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust. ​

It was Joanna’s dream to study history and she was delighted to receive four unconditional offers from Scottish universities as a reward for her hard work.

She settled on Edinburgh thanks to its rich history and the splendour of McEwan Hall.

Over the next year Joanna went on to have four rounds of chemotherapy before the decision was made to amputate her left leg in December 2017 after doctors found further progression of the disease. She had another two rounds of chemotherapy before finishing her treatment in February 2018.

Again, she took it all on with grace and determination, even going on to mentor others who had similar surgical procedures and were struggling to cope.

Joanna took her rehabilitation after the amputation in her stride, walking on stairs within days and forging friendships with patients of all ages in Astley Ainslie Hospital.

When Joanna turned 17 in January 2018 she started driving lessons and it wasn’t long before she was whizzing around the Capital in a customised silver Nissan Juke.

At the end of June, nearly two years on from her diagnosis, Joanna was told there was further progression of the disease. She and her family knew that the outcome was “not going to be great”.

Angela said: “They knew it was very unlikely they would be able to cure it.

“There were lesions in her lungs, which we knew originally but it was inactive. I think we always knew that it wasn’t 100 per cent not going to come back.”

Joanna decided to undergo oral chemotherapy which meant she could enjoy a final summer with her loved ones.

Joanna ticked off her school prom, wearing a wedding dress, holidays with friends and with family, the Kiltwalk – where she walked the five miles with her dad determined not to be last – public speaking, more fundraising, becoming the youngest trustee of the charity “It’s Good 2 Give”, which provides support to young cancer patients in Scotland and their families, and meeting Nicola Sturgeon from her bucket list.

Like so much of her life, Joanna’s death was on her own terms. In October 2017 she decided against further chemotherapy treatment and began palliative treatment. ​

Joanna then made the tough decision to defer her university place and began working for the charity which was so close to her heart – It’s Good 2 Give.

Joanna and her supporters have raised more than £150,000 over the past 18 months through various events for the charity including the Kiltwalk.

One week before she died Joanna enjoyed her 18th birthday party. She was able to tell the people she loved the most what they meant to her and say her goodbyes.

The following Thursday she told her parents she wanted to go into hospital where Joanna died peacefully on Friday, February 1 with her parents by her bedside.

Angela said: “We just have such incredible pride in what she’s done and she’s made such a difference.

“She was an amazing person and it is really sad that she only lasted 18 years and who knows what she could have been.

“How she lived her life was to the full. That’s how we want to remember her.”

Joanna made her parents promise they wouldn’t live their lives in mourning.

Angela said: “She wanted us to celebrate and I think we don’t have the right to not live our lives to the full because Joanna wouldn’t have wanted us to be like that.”

To make a donation to It’s Good 2 Give in Joanna’s memory click here.