One of the things Stephanie Hayes enjoys most about the events organised by the Wellington branch of Child Cancer Foundation is “not having to explain anything”.
She doesn’t need to explain what her beads are for, why she has no energy or why she has no hair. It’s her chance to just be a kid and not defined by cancer.
It was not long after Steph’s eighth birthday in 2015 that her parents noticed a lump on her head. It wasn’t painful, but they had it checked out and were relieved when tests and X-ray results came back normal. They had the option to remove the lump, so booked Steph in for day surgery.
But there was one test result still to come. A biopsy, which showed Steph had cancer. Her parents Cath and Dave were faced with the shock of a diagnosis that was never on their radar. Steph was transferred from Wellington to CHOC and Cath remembers how sobering it was to arrive and be met by a team of people, and a hospital room with Steph’s name already on the door.
This was the beginning of the youngster’s two and a half year cancer treatment journey – starting with a formal diagnosis of ALL, surgery and chemotherapy. Thankfully, many of Stephanie’s memories of Christchurch are positive – making friends, meeting friendly nurses and doctors, working with her Health School teacher and regular visits from Child Cancer Foundation who introduced her to the Beads of Courage.
After six weeks they were able to return to Wellington, but spent the next five months travelling to and from Christchurch every three weeks for more treatment. “Steph found the second treatment phase hard. She was hooked up to machines all day and all night, unable to leave the ward. Every day was the same – long and boring – and she missed her dad, but as parents, we are very proud of her. She coped way better than we did!”
When we received Stephanie’s diagnosis we became members of a club no-one wants to be part of.
Steph is still having treatment, but the hospital visits are less frequent and there are no more trips to Christchurch. “For Steph, the second half of the journey is less about cancer and more about being a kid. For us we have the luxury of thinking and planning beyond today.”
Steph and her family are regular attendees at local branch events and Cath says it’s like being part of a big family. “ A year and a half on we’re fortunate to have met and made friends with other families on a similar journey.”
Cath says while attending local events is fun and supportive, it’s also humbling. “Meeting and talking to other parents puts your own situation into perspective and like Steph, it is nice not having to explain everything.”
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