Toddler took first steps three times

Learning to walk is a milestone in the life of every child – but a Norfolk toddler has had to do it three times after being diagnosed with two rare illnesses.

Melissa Joyner was nominated for one of Cancer Research UK's Little Star Awards by her proud parents Moona and Adam.

The two-year-old, from Downham Market, was just one when she was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes which is very unusual in young children, in September 2009.

She is the youngest child ever to have been treated at Addenbrooke's Hospital with this type of cancer.

An intense chemotherapy regime meant she lost her new-found ability to walk and she took no further steps until Christmas Day last year.

But the reprieve did not last long and, in March, Melissa was struck by another rare illness called Guillain Barr� Syndrome (GBS) which affects the nervous system and left her paralysed from head to toe.

'We were afraid we were going to lose her but we didn't realise how very close we came until she was diagnosed with GBS,' said her mother, who is from Finland.

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'Doctors cautioned that she may never walk unassisted again because of the severity of her condition, but overcoming obstacles is nothing new to our little girl.'

With the help of physiotherapy, slowly Melissa learned the skills needed to sit up and roll over. Soon she was able to feed herself and, little by little, she started gaining muscle tone and strength.

'It wasn't until we were released from the hospital at the end of April that she really started to shine and gain confidence,' said Mrs Joyner, who lives in Ravensway with her husband, an American who works at RAF Lakenheath.

Mrs Joyner said: 'She was able to sit on one of her ride on toys and started to move her legs again. That was a moment of hope. We knew then that she would be able to learn to walk once again. Now she is running around like any other two-year-old and even jumping on her trampoline.'

Melissa, who was born two months premature with a rare hearing disor-der, will continue on maintenance chemotherapy until September next year, but doctors are already impressed by her amazing progress.

'The nurses often call her a star patient because she is just so adapted to the difficult circumstances,' said Mrs Joyner. 'She loves all the nurses and doctors. She blows them kisses and gives them cuddles often.

'She has a great attitude on life and her determination is absolutely admirable. That's why we nominated her for the Little Star Award – because that's exactly what she is.'

The annual awards acknowledge the unique challenges faced by youngsters who encounter cancer and are open for new nominations until February.

Every child nominated will receive a �50 TK Maxx gift card and certificate signed by celebrities including chart-toppers Rihanna, Leona Lewis and the Jonas Brothers, as well as Manchester United and Arsenal stars Ryan Giggs and Cesc Fabregas and Formula 1 ace Jenson Button. Their siblings also receive a special certificate in recognition of the support they give.

Visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/littlestar to nominate a little star.