Weathering the Storm Hannah Style
20 Apr 2012
We are very pleased to introduce the Faces of Child Cancer Appeal Month, which will run throughout March. Our youngest little ambassador is the gorgeous Hannah Lacey…. Read on to learn more about her.
Hospital staff are used to All Blacks and other popular kids’ stars turning up to visit children with cancer.
But when weatherman Jim Hickey turned up to see Hannah Lacey in Starship last year, they were very surprised. As was Hickey himself! The popular TVNZ presenter often receives requests to visit members of the public, but it was his first from a three-year-old.
It turns out Hannah has an unusual fascination for her age, with weather. Her parents Nicole and Andy had even used the incentive of allowing her to watch the weather during treatment when she was brave. “We’d say if you are good you can watch the weather on TV tonight,” laughs Nicole.
Hannah is an unusually strong little girl and she has needed to be. Her journey began Christmas 2010, when she was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumour. The cancer had also spread to her lungs and she was classified as Stage IV.
During summer Hannah spent many weeks in hospital and had two admissions to PICU (Intensive Care), for breathing difficulties. In February 2011 she had a right nephrectomy (right kidney removal) and started on radiotherapy soon after. Hannah spent 35 weeks receiving treatment, catching giardia during the process and suffering breathing difficulties after reacting to general anaesthesia. Her treatment included: 35 days of chemotherapy, 7 days of radiotherapy, 8 blood transfusions, 21 weeks of being fed by a naso-gastric tube, surgeries, scans, blood tests and clinic visits. During this time she collected 350 Beads of Courage.
Finally at the end of August 2011, a week after her fourth birthday Hannah completed treatment, all her scans showed no evidence of disease, she returned to preschool and began to live a normal life back with her parents and sister Imogen who she had missed very much while in hospital.
However in early October she was admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital with a suspected viral infection. While in hospital her condition deteriorated and the medical team found a brain metastasis. The metastasis was removed and testing revealed it was a Wilms Metastasis. Hannah officially relapsed seven weeks after completing her treatment. Hannah started radiotherapy at the beginning of November and completed 3 ½ weeks of treatment (18 sessions). Hannah chose to do all of her radiation sessions without anaesthetic, despite being afraid of the machine. She dressed in fancy dress for each one of her sessions and talked positively about “getting rid of her headache.”
Hannah’s relapse was even more shocking, if that is possible, because it was so unexpected. Less than half a percent of children with a Wilms Tumour will develop a brain metastasis and Hannah is so far the only person on her treatment protocol to develop one. Her oncologists and surgeons had never seen it happen.
“We feel very lucky Hannah is alive,” says Nicole. “We have been told a number of times not to expect to bring her home. On Christmas Eve she was diagnosed we were told it was possible she wouldn’t make it through the weekend.”
Nicole and her family have drawn a lot of support from family, friends and the community. This included a three month visit from England from Andy’s mother, and also from the Child Cancer Foundation.
“During our first week of diagnosis our family support co-ordinator was there with petrol vouchers, meal vouchers, phone top ups, information about the hospital and support. We were also lucky enough to receive a large Santa sack full of extra toys and food which made our long stay in hospital a little easier. The shock of diagnosis is terrible but also being in hospital over a time which is supposed to be filled with joy and happiness is draining and tough,” says Nicole.
Nicole has felt a real sense of isolation, after taking extended leave from her job being able to attend CCF preschool play dates and activity mornings where she’s met many friends going through similar experiences has been invaluable. “Meeting parents and caregivers who actually understand what you are going through and for Hannah to be able to play in a safe place with other children who look the same and who are experiencing the same challenges, was wonderful.”
Now that treatment is completed, Hannah has three monthly scans for the next two years and will continue to have regular scans for at least nine years.
Christmas this year was fantastic for Hannah and her family: “We seemed to spend the whole of December at parties, says Nicole. “Both our children got spoilt with presents and experiences. We spent Christmas day with our family, eating, swimming and being normal.
“We feel that 2012 will be an amazing year, with Hannah returning to preschool and enjoying being with her friends. We are loving resuming normal family life!”
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