After the first episode of this series, I was a little more prepared for this one - but nothing really prepares you for watching a programme like this.

The heartening news from the opening to the programme is that the survival rate is so much better nowadays - 80% now as opposed to all victims not surviving past the first year a few years ago.

Tonight’s programme focused on a 6-year old little girl called Ellie, and a 15-year old boy called Andrew.

There seemed to be more information given this week about the disease itself and the various treatments which are either on offer at the moment or in development, rather than last week which seemed to focus more on the stories of the children involved. We are told that doctors are coming closer to understanding just why it is that some children develop leukaemia in the first place.

Apparently there needs to be 2 mutations in the blood cells - the first occurs in the womb, and as many as 1 in 20 children are affected by this. Leukaemia only develops if a second mutation occurs later in life and this affects just 1% of those children, resulting in an overall rate of 1 in 2,000. Given a population the size of this country, 1 in 2,000 seems frighteningly common.

The next task for the doctors carrying out research is to find out just why these mutations happen in the first place. There are many theories banded about such as blaming radiation, living too close to electrical pylons or substations etc but the truth is that they just don’t know at present. Their best guess is that the second mutation is caused by an infection.

Although we like to think that we live in a cleaner, healthier and therefore better world now than our predecessors did in years gone by and that this can only be a good thing, in fact the opposite may be the case. In order to build up an effective immune system, that immune system must be tested. In the past the body would be bombarded with potentially harmful diseases and bacteria on a daily basis - now that we live in a more sanitised world, it may be that our immune systems are not as prepared to fight disease as they once would have been.

A new test to help tailor treatment specific to each patient rather than to just have a “one size fits all” approach is currently under trial - this is known as the Minimal Residue Disease test, or MRD for short. It allows for much greater precision in measuring leukaemia cells present, therefore giving a much more accurate assessment of the patient’s recovery rate or otherwise, thereby allowing for their treatment dose to be increased or decreased accordingly.

Back to the children featured in this episode, and Ellie’s story started with her parents attending hospital to find out the results of some tests. Ellie had been feeling a bit poorly for a little while, tired and with aching joints. The results showed that she had developed leukaemia, and her parents were devastated as you would expect.

While this is always going to be a terrifying time for any parent, being told their child may die because of a life-threatening illness, hopefully this series will give these people some hope - I’m sure if a survey was conducted asking parents the survival rate of leukaemia patients, the consensus wouldn’t put that rate at anything near the true value of 80% and rising. When people hear that name, leukaemia, they associate it with death but medicine is moving on at such a pace that it’s simply not the killer it once was.

It’s perfectly understandable for parents to initially fear the worst though.

Ellie’s mum later tells us in an interview that what she thought at the time was “my child shouldn’t have this” - which is probably what anyone and everyone would think, but an illness such as this isn’t anyone’s fault (as far as we know), it really does seem terribly random.

Ellie is move into hospital for treatment, with either her mum or dad there to stay with her at all times. At one point her dad asks whether she prefers to be in hospital or at home to which she replies she prefers being at home as they “don’t do thumbpricks at home”.

What has struck me about all the children in the series so far, is their resilience - they seem to take anything in their stride, never moaning or feeling sorry for themselves as you may imagine an adult might. The younger the patient, the more this seems to be the case.

The type of leukaemia that Ellie has is the most common, and also the easiest to treat so the outlook for her is pretty positive - not that that means it will be an easy ride. It’s also explained that girls respond better to treatment than boys, which was something I didn’t know before.

As she progresses through her treatment, her dad expresses his feelings of worthlessness and uselessness - while she is ill there is basically nothing that he can do to help make her better, he just has to hand her over to the doctors, people he has never met before, and trust that they will do the right thing by his daughter.

Ellie makes good progress and is allowed to leave the hospital. Once at home, some of the side effects become apparent - she is gaining a lot of weight due to the steriods she has to take (she calls her new tummy her “jelly belly”) and is also starting to lose her hair. Through all of this she remains fairly happy as she was at the start of filming, however when we see her again later there is a marked change in her appearance.

She also explained that she was now feeling different inside too. The drugs were making her feel tired and grumpy, which meant that she was taking it all out on her mum and dad by arguing with them and being generally grumpy around the house. As she put it she “likes being happy and smiling - and being nice to my mum and dad. I try to stop myself being grumpy but I can’t.”

Ellie and her parents returned to the hospital for the results of her latest MRD test and are encouraged by the news that there is a vastly reduced count of leukaemia cells in her bone marrow so the treatment is obviously having a very good effect. This means that although she has to continue her treatment, she can carry on a more or less normal life by going out to the cinema, going shopping - and also returning to school part-time.

At her age she probably didn’t think twice about what the other kids would think of her weight-gain or hairloss, but I can imagine this must be a very difficult step for some older children.

It was good to see that some hospital staff visited her school prior to her return to talk her classmates through what Ellie had undergone, and the changes that they would see in her - that was something I didn’t expect to happen to be honest, but would seem to be a very worthwhile exercise. They explained in simple terms what the disease was all about, and that although she may have no hair at the moment this would grow back - and similarly the drugs she was on had made her gain a lot of weight, but this too would return to normal shortly.

Although her own classmates were seen to be fairly unconcerned by her new appearance, some of the footage of her first day at school showed her in the playground being laughed at by other girls, mainly due to her baldness - she later told her mum about this and explained it made her feel sad when they laughed at her.

One other girl who had obviously been paying close attention to what was said during the hospital staff’s visit explained to Ellie in the canteen that “the medicine is what’s making you fat but you will get back to what you used to be like!”

The other patient featured tonight was Andrew - and as was the case with the Scottish Andrew last week, it was the boy who had the rougher road to travel than the girl featured.

Initially, everything seemed to be on track and he was allowed home following the initial treatment as Ellie had been. Three days after leaving hospital however, Andrew suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital where he was put on a life support machine. His speech had been affected as was the mobility in his right hand side.

His condition was described as extremely serious, and filming of his story was stopped. I had a case of deja vu as I thought back to last week’s programme - surely the same thing coudn’t happen again, could it?

Thankfully not, Andrew was taken off the life support a few days later and when we saw him next he was receiving physiotherapy to help regain the power in his right side. As if he didn’t have enough to contend with fighting the leukaemia, to have to also battle against a blood clot on his brain seemed too much to expect a young man like him to take on.

But take it on he did, and he was pretty philosophical in his approach - at the first sign of his hair falling out, he decided to get the better of it and just shave it off before it could fall out, claiming that there’s “more to life than hair.” How true.

Again, his treatment was going well so he was allowed home - the first time he had been there since his stroke and it showed in how nervous he appeared to be. Several friends had offered to go places with him, but he was too scared that something would happen like the last time and his young friends wouldn’t know how to react for the best so he decided to just stay at home until he had the all clear on the brain clot front.

Andrew’s MRD result showed that he was low risk now too - he has had a lot of side effects, but things are looking good now. On hearing the results his mum gets very emtional which embarassed him no end, but as she explained it’s the first good news they have had yet. Although things are now looking positive for Andrew too, remission doesn’t mean cure and as he is male then he has another 3 years of treament to prevent relapse. This seems like an awfully long time to be going through treatment, but again Andrew is philosophical about the whole experience he has been through as he feels it’s “good to know my body is strong enough to get through all this, so I know I can get through what’s ahead of me.”

I think everyone who watched this would wish both him and Ellie all the best on the journey that lies ahead.

There are further details on the series, with short summaries of each programme here.