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How family put aside the sadness of losing a young daughter to start up a charity that has raised pounds 350m in bid to beat leukaemia.

AS SYLVIA Gaunt reflects on her childhood, she finds it hard to imagine the cheeky little sister who used to mess up their bedroom, would now be 56.

Sadly, at the age of just six, "giggly" Susan Eastwood died of leukaemia within six weeks of diagnosis, denying Sylvia the opportunity to grow up with the sister who might have become her best friend.

Sylvia, 66, says: "She was a lovely little person. She liked doing handstands, and playing on the swing in the back garden.

"I still remember her as my giggly little sister who would play with my make-up, rake through my drawers in the bedroom and ruffle things up, then say, 'I haven't been in there!'" Sylvia fondly recalls Susan's love of picnics and how, when she was diagnosed with leukaemia, the family tried their best to fit in as many days out countryside as possible.

Friends and neighbours of the family, from Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough, also raised funds to buy Susan a poodle called Whiskey, with the help of the Jack & Jill pub on Crossfell Road.

Sylvia said: "She loved that dog. It would sit on her bed and wouldn't get off as if to say, 'this is my job - I need to look after her for a while.'" Susan was two weeks off her seventh birthday when she died. Following the sad news, friends from her Sunday School visited the family's home in Langridge Crescent, where she lay resting, to say their last goodbyes.

Despite their obvious sadness, the Eastwood family, including Sylvia's late parents Hilda and Dave, put aside their own grief to start up a charity now known as Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.

And since its very first fundraising event - a raffle to win a music box -made pounds 37, the charity, which has its 50-year-old roots firmly on Teesside, has really branched out.

"When Susan was diagnosed, it was just a death sentence, but nowadays, we've got a 90% cure rate thanks to this fund," said proud Sylvia.

"When we raffled that music box 50 years ago I thought, 'people are willing to give for this,' and so we set off doing other things.

"At that time, everyone wore a hankie and we had women who were friends in the GEC factory in Middlesbrough sewing these hankies on their night shifts.

"They would come back with carrier bags full of them and we would sell them We got two bob for those hankies."

The charity has since gone on to raise pounds 350m to date.

Throughout the Sixties, Sylvia helped her mum and dad organise everything from dances at The Ladle, Ladgate Lane, to jumble sales and sponsored "pram pushes" to raise cash for the charity.

She said: "You name it, we did it. If it raised money we were there. We didn't have time to catch our breath and it was such fun!" Of course, the fundraising was always tinged with sadness.

Nevertheless, Hilda, who died in 1972 aged 49, and Dave, who passed away in 1979, dedicated their lives to fundraising in the hope of a cure for the devastating cancer that killed their little girl.

Sylvia said: "When my mum died, it knocked the stuffing out of my life, but my brother lives in Australia and when my father died, I thought, 'I'm the only one left here who really knows the history of the fund.' "My own children are really proud of what their grandparents achieved."

Sylvia recalls their first big cheque presentation totalled pounds 3,000 - an amount she reckons would be equivalent to pounds 45,000 to pounds 50,000 nowadays. "It was such a lot of money we didn't know what to do "FROM small acorns, large oak trees grow," says Sylvia Gaunt as she fondly remembers the little sister whose sad death inspired Middlesbrough factory girls to sew hundreds of ornate "two bob" hankies.

Health reporter SARAH JUDD discovers how hundreds of those hankies, carefully embroidered and sold throughout the sixties, marked the beginnings of a huge success for a pounds 350m international charity, which has achieved a 90% cure rate for Leukaemia.

EARLY DAYS: Sylvia's parents Hilda and Dave count cash, right, and on the left above as they receive a cheque


HAPPY: Sylvia, with husband Walter, is thrilled at the charity's success MEMORIES: Sylvia talks about the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research charity, above, tragic Susan with their dad Dave, below, and a story in the Gazette, left
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:May 5, 2010
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