Mansfield sisters' global campaign to save life of baby with cancer
From opposite sides of the world, two Mansfield sisters are united in an emotional attempt to save the life of a baby riddled with cancer.
Joanne Schwerdtfeger, who is currently living in Brisbane, Australia, and Rachel Boot found out about the plight of little Ryzy after their own dad, Steve Evans, had been diagnosed with the same form of leukaemia.
And their campaign to raise funds, so that she can undergo vital treatment, mirrors that of reality TV star and former Mansfield Town footballer Ashley Cain, whose baby daughter tragically died last weekend.
Ryzy Amaris Serra Cal, to give her her full name, is a year old and lives in the Philippines with mum Jamaika Ann and dad Raymond Cris. She is their first and only child.
Not long after she was born, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare and aggressive type of blood cancer.
Four gruelling rounds of intensive chemotherapy almost killed her. Briefly, it put her into remission, but now the cancer is back and the only way to fend it off is via a bone marrow transplant.
Sadly, there is no NHS in the Philippines. Such operations have to be paid for, and this one costs four million pesos, which equates to £59,000.
Joanne and Rachel were just coming to terms with the shock of finding out about their 62-year-old dad when they read of Ryzy on Facebook and got in touch through a support group.
"We are just a couple of mothers who care about sharing the same battle,” said Rachel, 37, who works as an auditor.
"We are so privileged in this country, thanks to the incredible NHS, and we don’t even realise it. Little children like Ryzy need our backing.
"We want to raise awareness, and raise some money as well if we can.”
Rachel, who lives with husband Mark, 43, a teacher at the Joseph Whitaker School in Rainworth, and their three-year-old son Jason, has come up with a novel way of fundraising.
In a take on the new keep or rehide craze, she is leaving sealed items of jewellery in places such as parks, playgrounds and theme parks – complete with a note on how to help the campaign for Ryzy.
"People can keep the jewellery if they want to, but the idea is to share the story, and give people the chance to donate if they can,” explained Rachel.
"We’ve left the items at places where families enjoy typical days out, such as White Post Farm, the Wheelgate theme park and Berry Hill.
"So look out for that Gucci necklace hiding in a local park!
“I am collecting items of unwanted jewellery that anyone wants to give.”
Meanwhile, Down Under, nurse and mum-of-two Joanne has launched a GoFundMe page online that is inviting donations and has already generated almost £2,300.
She said: “Without a bone marrow transplant, Ryzy’s chances of survival are minimal.
"The treatment is standard in the UK and also here in Australia, but unfortunately not in the Philippines.
"This young family, whom I have got to know, will never be able to get the funds without help.
"Ryzy’s parents are currently jobless because of the pandemic, and are doing or selling whatever they can to raise funds.
"I am trying to start the transplant process off. All the money raised will go to Ryzy’s parents and directly towards medical bills.
"If she pulls through her current chemo, then the plan is to start testing her parents for a possible transplant match.”
Those young parents have admitted via Facebook that news of their daughter’s relapse “shattered our hopes and left us devastated”.
They said: “Ryzy has already been through a lot, but she didn’t give up, and we don’t want her efforts to be wasted.
"We hope you can find it in your hearts to help this little baby of ours.”
Back here in Mansfield, the sisters’ retired dad, Steve, is said to be in good spirits after his third round of intensive chemotherapy at Nottingham City Hospital.
“He’s cracking on with it,” said Rachel. “He’s a typical Mansfield man who can normally be found playing golf at the Rufford club or enjoying a drink in the ‘Boldie’ (Bold Forester pub).
"He’s a character and he’s fighting. All he wants is to be back home with my mum, Chris, or on the golf course.”
Steve found time to send his own message, saying: “I’m lucky. Others aren’t. This baby needs our help.”
The sisters have already been hit by tragedy during the Covid-19 pandemic because they lost their 95-year-old grandma, Doris Dryden, to the killer virus.
But they are hoping their fight for Ryzy can build on the amazing support given to Ashley Cain, 30, and his partner, Safiyya Vorajee, who raised more than £1.5 million to fund a lifesaving transplant in Singapore for their eight-month-old daughter, Azaylia, after she too was struck down by AML.
Sadly, she was unable to make the flight because doctors discovered more tumours, and she died last Saturday.
During his football career, Cain made 20 appearances for the Stags about ten years ago and, coincidentally, Joanne and Rachel’s grandad, Raymond Evans, also played for Mansfield as a striker in the 1950s.
Rachel added: “The difference with Ryzy is that without a celebrity backing her or support from a public-health system, her chances are slim.
"And yet it is possible that, together, we can give her a chance at life.”
You can follow Ryzy’s story so far, and keep in touch with fresh, regular updates, on the Facebook page, Ryzy vs Leukemia.
Jo’s GoFundMe page can be found at https://gofund.me/12f897f6
Direct donations can be made via the parents’ PayPal account at [email protected]