Charlie & his mum Leea are two of our 2020 ambassadors

Being able to say the words ‘I am now cancer free’ was an amazing moment for Charlie and his family. It was a tough road to recovery and as any cancer family will tell you there are good days and bad, but Charlie got through it and came out stronger.

Charlie is like any other nine-year-old, very active and adventurous and enjoys playing rugby league, touch football and riding motorbikes and mountain bikes on his farm, just outside Toowoomba. At the end of June 2019, Charlie, his older brother Tom and his dad Damian, were enjoying some time together and having fun when Charlie fell from his motorbike.  Like any other time before this resulted in small cuts and bruises and a grazed left hip and abdomen.  Nothing out of the ordinary or that caused alarm.  Little did they know, that on this occasion these small cuts and bruises would lead to a big diagnosis.

It was the start of the school holiday, and Charlie and Tom were excited to spend a few days in Brisbane with their aunt, uncle and cousins.  While in Brisbane, despite being his usual happy, healthy, energetic self during the day, at night Charlie would wake and complain of feeling unwell.  The two boys went on for a sleep over at Nanny’s house and again during the night Charlie woke feeling unwell and complained of intense pain in his left hip.  They returned home the following day and during the next 36 hours Charlie became increasingly unwell. He was tired, lethargic and complained of back, hip and abdominal pain.

Charlie’s mum Leea, booked an appointment with the GP as soon as she could.  An ultrasound was requested for a suspected hernia in Charlie’s groin, but once Leea saw the images she knew something was seriously wrong.    Blood tests showed Charlie had abnormal white blood cell counts and urgently needed further tests.  He was admitted to Toowoomba Base Hospital, but his condition was deteriating quickly and he was in intense pain.  Following an MRI Leea was told he would need to be transferred to Queensland Children’s Hospital. 

Once admitted, it was obvious that Charlie’s condition was still deteriating, his left leg had started to swell, and a red rash had broken out on his abdomen and leg.  He was still in a serious amount of pain and was put on a morphine drip to try and bring it under control. Charlie was scheduled for surgery to have a lymph node excision and bone marrow testing, along with more ultrasounds, CT scans and regular blood tests.  Charlie was moved to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit but by this point he was unable to communicate coherently due to the pain and large doses of pain medication.

“We were now over a week into this experience and still we were no closer to knowing exactly what was causing Charlie to become so sick, so quickly.  It was terrifying watching Charlie becoming increasingly unwell and seeing his left leg swell at an alarming rate to almost double its size. We felt helpless that despite the huge doses of pain medications being administered Charlie was not able to get any relief” Leea said.

Then finally on Wednesday May 18, the family got a diagnosis, Charlie had Type 2 B Classical Hodgkin lymphoma.  Steroid treatment began immediately, and chemotherapy commence the following day.

Leea said “I can honestly say that from that point on, I have not cried about Charlie’s diagnosis as our diagnosis was a positive one. 4 months of treatment including chemotherapy and steroids and his cancer is very treatable and highly curable.”

Charlie was transferred back to the ward within a few days of treatment starting and then after 18 days in hospital he was discharged and able to complete his treatment as an outpatient. 

Charlie’s diagnosis was life changing for the whole family, but despite it, he is an amazingly strong and resilient boy who never complained about having chemotherapy drugs or taking copious amounts of medications. 

“Charlie has often asked me why. Why was it him that was diagnosed with cancer? Why did he have to lose all of his hair? As a mother, that is the hardest thing to have to try and explain to your child when all you want is to take their pain away. From very early on I told Charlie and Tom that the reason Charlie was diagnosed with cancer is because we are the best people to deal with it” said Leea.

While he was receiving treatment on the Oncology ward Charlie completed a painting which quickly became a big hit and talking point for staff and other kids receiving treatment.  He also stole a few hearts when he told his story at a fundraising event for the Children’s Hospital Foundation.  

“He succeeded in making me cry when he informed his audience that he was now cancer free! Hearing those words from him and having him acknowledge his journey so publicly was an amazing thing, especially as was just an 8-year-old little boy with a big story to tell” added Leea.

Charlie completed his treatment in October 2019 and is doing really well, so well in fact he is going to join his mum in another challenge.  To give back to everyone who helped Charlie through his medical journey, last year Leea signed up to the Children’s Hospital Foundation fundraiser 42K Your Way raising an amazing $5800.  This year mum and son are taking on the challenge together and hope to smash last year’s final figure.

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