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Real Stories

Jane and Angus: ‘Going through cancer was hell on Earth’

“I just cannot imagine facing cancer therapy with a pandemic going on.”


Jane Olsen was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma when she was two years old. Her father, Angus, remembers Jane going through 54 weeks of chemotherapy. He describes that time as “hell on Earth”, even without the threat of an unknown virus sweeping the globe.


Diagnosis

In August 2016, our then two-year-old daughter, Jane, had agonising abdominal pain. The paediatrician examined her in our car outside his house as we were so desperate to find out what was wrong with her. He believed it was just constipation, but my partner Rachel insisted he write an x-ray referral.

That very night, Jane was raced by ambulance to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney after a radiologist exclaimed “WHAT IS THAT?!” and found an unexplainable mass in her abdomen.

She was taken in for surgery. The surgeon sat us down to tell us the biopsy indicated an aggressive soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.

What followed was months of living in the hospital with life-threatening scares, 54 weeks of chemotherapy, multiple bouts in ICU, experimental chemotherapy, and surgery to remove the tumour that had ballooned to an enormous 700 grams between August and May.


Cancer & COVID-19

Angus is an author and illustrator of visual resources for children and their families facing childhood cancer: ‘I Draw Childhood Cancer’.

In May 2020, during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, he teamed up with Redkite to create a series of cartoons. Each cartoon illustrates the parallels between what healthy families were experiencing as a result of the pandemic, but what children and families must go through every day because of cancer.

Jane went through 54 weeks of chemotherapy and there wasn’t a pandemic going on.

It was hell on Earth and I just cannot imagine facing cancer therapy with a pandemic going on.

I’m hoping that with these cartoons, people understand the seriousness of COVID-19 to an oncology child and oncology family.


Support from Redkite

For us, Redkite was the charity. It was the charity in the trenches and it was the charity that when you have a problem, suddenly Redkite was in front of you.

You get moved into Camperdown Ward [at Westmead], and you haven’t eaten for 12 hours, sometimes 20 hours.

It’s 2am, your child is finally stabilised and asleep, and may be receiving blood. Then starving, you go into the common room to cry, and you open the cupboard and it’s full of Redkite food.

I can’t explain to you what that is like. To a parent, it leaves you speechless. We also received Redkite’s Red Bag, a short and long-term emergency bag for life in hospital.

Diaries for the many blood tests and appointments. Down the road, you use that book as a history for your child’s medical story because that doesn’t always come to light later on. These diaries become the story of your child’s medical situation without you even knowing. It’s incredibly important.

Redkite’s bead program: beads representing various difficulties Jane faced. There were Coles gift cards, which were redeemable for groceries and fuel for the long commute to hospital.

Then after treatment, counselling and information sources for post-cancer considerations.

Redkite was there from beginning to end. They were a lifeline in the darkness. They knew what we needed before we knew we needed it.


Life today

Today, Jane is a happy, healthy seven-year-old.

On meeting her, you would never know the nightmare she went through, or of the unsung things Redkite have done, to get us here.


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