“It was my baby, my little girl. How could it be that she’s got cancer?”
Alex undergoing treatment.
When Alex was diagnosed Mariann and Peter’s whole world fell apart.
“It felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride that wouldn’t stop.” says Mariann, Alex’s mother.
This nightmare began when they noticed a lump sticking out from under Alex’s rib. An ultrasound showed Alex had a tumour the size of a football inside her small body. The next day at Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, a stunned Mariann and Peter found themselves discussing chemotherapy with an oncologist. The tumour had already spread to other organs.
When Peter asked the doctor what, theoretically, would happen if Alex was not given chemotherapy, the answer was chilling:
“She’ll live for maybe six months – then you’ll lose her.”
These are words no parent should ever have to hear. But Mariann and Peter had no choice but to watch helplessly by as their beautiful daughter’s health deteriorated.
At diagnosis, Alex weighed 23 kilos. After six weeks of chemotherapy, she had dropped to a fragile 17.9 kilos. From the very first treatment, it made her sick with vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of bowel control. At age four, she had to go back into nappies. She developed painful ulcers in her mouth that made eating excruciating.
All of this was a direct result of the gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were working to save her life. It was – and still is – a harsh reality of cancer. The treatments that were necessary to save Alex’s life were also painful and frightening. With the help of supporters we can find a way to change this.
As Mariann says, “That was the worst thing to watch as a parent. Some of the treatments were only a couple of minutes and we were out of there, but for others, the big ones, we were in for six to eight hours. At those times more than ever I would have swapped with her in a heartbeat and my husband would have too”.
And it hasn’t ended yet. Alex may live with side effects from her cancer treatment for the rest of her life. This family’s devastating experience is still all too common. Despite improvements in survival rates for children with cancer, there’s still a desperate need for treatments that are less damaging on their developing bodies – and more effective.
Cancer research is expensive and heavily dependent on the generous donations from supporters. It’s these donations that enable us here at Cancer Council Queensland to continue to help fund vital research projects and support services. All of which brings us closer to our goal of a cancer free future.
One of the exciting research projects we’re helping to fund at the moment is looking at ways to reduce the impact of a protein that ‘helps’ cancerous tumours grow. This research could transform the way cancers like Alex’s are treated, and possibly even eliminating the disease for future generations altogether.
Alex has now completed the intense phase of her treatment but it could be ten years before the family know if Alex’s heart, lungs or teeth have been damaged by this treatment. And perhaps more worrying, she has a mass near her heart which can’t be operated on. But her parents Peter and Mariann are remaining positive and are happy to watch their daughter going to school, playing with her sister and being a child again. “We are just grateful for every day we get with her”, says Mariann.
For Mariann, having seen all that Alex has gone through, she knows how crucial cancer research is.
“It would be wonderful to know that, if anything were to happen to Alex again, she has a better chance of survival. That other families going through cancer have that better chance, and their kids don’t have to go through what Alex went through. But we need the funds to actually do the research.”
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Visit www.cancerqld.org.au or call 1300 663 936.