“In March 2014, our family was thrown onto the oncology rollercoaster when Bella, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (high risk) at the age of four.”
Bella’s father tells the story of the “oncology rollercoaster” their family was thrown onto, when in March 2014 she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (high risk) at the age of four.
After arriving at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne in an ambulance, she started chemotherapy immediately.
During her treatment, I continued to work full-time and take care of our youngest daughter Olivia while my wife, Vanie, spent day and night in the hospital.
After work I would visit Bella in the hospital every day. It was hard for her younger sister Olivia because she stayed with her aunties, uncles and grandparents, and missed her mum and sister. It’s a bit sad but you just do what you have to do.
After I visited Bella, I would then come home to pick up Olivia at nine or ten o’clock.
Treatment and the search for a donor
Two years of intense chemotherapy reduced Bella’s leukaemia to zero, but unfortunately, once the chemo stopped, the cancer cells came back because there was still diseased bone marrow.
She needed a bone marrow transplant, but when biological parents donate the chance of it taking is always reduced to 50%, whereas with other donors the chance is in the high 90s.
We began searching for a donor – they needed to be in good health and aged 18 to 45. We had two unrelated donors suggested to Vanie and me, but one had hepatitis and the other was travelling to South America, which meant risking exposure to the Zika virus. It was a chance we were not willing to take.
Bella’s bone marrow transplant
So Vanie and I began taking the steps to do the transplant. We both had to complete a full medical exam including chest x-rays, blood tests and medical meetings with doctors.
Vanie had her marrow harvested, but the transplant was unsuccessful. It didn’t engraft in Bella’s. Then the doctor decided, ‘Okay, Tosh is the next one up.’
We thought we’d go ahead with that, even though it’s 50%. It was now up to me.
A week before the procedure, I had to inject myself with GCSF (Granulocyte Colony Stimulator Factor) which stimulated my bone marrow to produce stem cells. It was very painful. I had to inject myself around the stomach region and that hurt.
In a four-hour procedure, my blood was removed via a needle in one arm, the stem cells were collected with a blood separator and then my blood was returned back into me. It was fine, but I was just very tired. I took a week of work just as a precaution, but recovered straightaway.
If this bone marrow transplant didn’t work, we didn’t know which option was next. We were told that we might have to travel to the United States to begin trials. The options were reducing if this didn’t work out.
Thankfully, the trip to the US was never needed. In October of 2017, the bone marrow transplant was successful.
Life after cancer
Looking back, seeing my little girl in hospital was the lowest point in my life. It was very distressing, because she had to go through that, not us. But even during our darkest days our family remained focused and determined to ‘never give up’.
Today, we are happy to report that Bella has recovered and is getting on with life.
We love the outdoors and never take anything for granted.
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