Meet Charlie our 2020 ambassador from Toowoomba

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.

Meet Charlotte our 2020 ambassador from Cairns

Telling your daughter, she has cancer and hearing the words ‘mum am I going to die’ is unthinkable, but for Kushla, this was a heartbreaking reality.

13-year-old Charlotte is a talented basketball player and in early 2019, she was training hard in preparation for the upcoming State Championships.  Aches and pains in her arms were not unusual and could usually be treated with heat and ice packs, sports massage and physio.  However, this time it was different, and no amount of treatment seemed to ease the pain.  The physio referred Charlotte for an MRI the week before state championships but there weren’t any appointments available.  Travelling to Mackay, Kushla took the referral with her in case the opportunity for an appointment came up while they were away.  A game and a half into the tournament, it was clear Charlotte was in too much pain to continue playing and Kushla took her straight to an imaging facility.  Following the MRI they requested an x-ray, so Kushla knew they had seen something.  When she enquired about what it was, they said it looked like a cyst and Charlotte should not continue playing basketball. 

The following morning as Charlotte and Kushla were leaving the hotel to support the team from the sidelines, Kushla got the phone call no parent should ever have to hear.

“I don't actually remember the full conversation except for snippets and words like tumour, Brisbane, oncology, my heart sank, how could this even be possible. Then the calls didn't stop, next was the radiology place in Mackay as we had to get her to come back for immediate scans, then it was the oncology registrar in Brisbane, welfare officers, patient travel. My husband and son were not staying with us, but they were in Mackay. Telling Charlotte was heartbreaking, her first words to me "Mum, am I going to die?" At this stage, we knew absolutely nothing, we didn't have a name for the tumour, we didn't know if it was malignant, we didn't know how long we would be in Brisbane.” recalls Kushla.

Charlotte was admitted to Queensland Children’s Hospital and immediately underwent further x-rays, a CT scan, a biopsy and a PET scan.  There was still a glimmer of hope that this was not as serious as first thought and that it could be non-malignant.  But sadly, when the results were in, Charlotte was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and she started on chemotherapy the following day.  After a week there was some positive news, no other lesions had been found anywhere else in her body and the cancer had been caught early. 

“My husband and I were in shock for a while, I was angry "why Charlotte?", but then you realise why not Charlotte, if it's not her it will be somebody else. Cancer doesn't care, it doesn't discriminate” added Kushla.

Following a course of chemotherapy, Charlotte underwent surgery in October and was one of the first paediatric patients to benefit from new cutting-edge 3D surgical navigation technology.  Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Children’s Hospital Foundation funded the $1.7 million equipment, making Queensland Children’s Hospital the first in Australia to use the technology in a paediatric cancer setting.

Despite everything, Charlotte has remained so positive and amazingly strong, Kushla said “She is such a positive person. From the very beginning she told her Dad and I that she wanted to know everything, and we weren't allowed to keep anything from her.  Her attitude is what gets me moving every day. There are not always good days, some days are ugly, and you can't do anything but hold her, but we embrace the good ones and keep her laughing and smiling.

Charlotte enjoyed bedside play and played a lot of Uno and spot it. It was fun meeting the different volunteers. We felt extremely privileged to be part of the 2019 Telethon, and we really loved going to the Lord Mayors Christmas Carols, it was such a horrible time and that just made us feel a little bit happier”.

Charlotte has now finished her treatment and the family headed home in April 2020 to Cairns, so the family can be together again.   While their old normal is no longer, they are looking forward to creating a new normal together.

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