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Real Stories

Susannah’s story: The treatments took a toll on Zoe

Susannah and her family’s life had become a blur of hospital stays, medical procedures, and the constant fear of what the future might hold for her daughter Zoe.

Susannah Rudge is a loving mother of two girls, Zoe, 11 and Nicola, 10 and lives with her husband James, in Melbourne.

Zoe was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of two. Nicola was only six months at the time.

“Zoe is an incredibly perceptive, empathetic person, and I think that’s got a lot to do with what she’s been through. She is mature way beyond her years. She is literacy captain this year at school because she loves reading, she loves writing. She’s incredibly good at it. She’s a leader. She’s a hundred percent a leader. Everyone in her school community looks to her and sees her as a leader. She’s great public speaker. She’s confident. I mean deep down, she’s got a lot of issues still and demons, I suppose. There’s also a lot that comes with what she’s been through. But she’s got a great group of friends. She loves shopping, she loves makeup. She’s absolutely obsessed with shopping and makeup and all of that.”

After noticing a slight bulging in Zoe’s left eye, an MRI showed Zoe had a fast-growing tumour behind her left eye. “I looked up at her face… and her eyes just didn’t look right. I just knew that it wasn’t right.”

“I looked up at her face… and her eyes just didn’t look right. I just knew that it wasn’t right.”

Susy and James were given the devastating news from the ophthalmologist that Zoe had a tumour. Her husband breaking down beside her as the weight of their daughter’s illness sank in. Zoe underwent surgery soon after her diagnosis, but the challenges had just begun. Chemotherapy, radiation, and countless hospital visits became the new normal for the family. Susy spoke of the toll the treatments took on Zoe.

“We were in and out for 6 months,” Susy explained, her voice trembling with the memory. “It was just incredibly traumatic.”

The family’s life had become a blur of hospital stays, medical procedures, and the constant fear of what the future might hold.

“It was just incredibly traumatic. She had multiple nasal gastric tubes. She couldn’t eat. She was violently ill all the time. Chemo, she couldn’t stomach it. She was really, really sick with it. And her moods would be out of control. It just really frightening to watch that rage that comes with some of the drugs in a tiny child. And they’re just having these almost hallucinations and manic outbursts.”

With a sick toddler and a baby both who needed full time care, Susannah was a stay-at-home mother and her husband had to keep his job.

“He’s paying for everything to keep it going. I’m not earning money. Many people go back to work when children are small, out of financial necessity and I had no choice in this because a child in cancer treatment requires full time care. Suddenly you’re reliant on any savings that you have, they start disappearing, and you’ve got all these extra expenses coming in, like the fact that you’ve got to pay for parking and petrol, the fact that hospital food’s expensive, the fact that your child won’t eat anything that the hospital offers, so you’re bribing them all the time.”

Susannah’s mum was her main support and her dad drove them to their appointments because James was at work. Zoe and Nicola’s relationship has strengthened. “Zoe and her sister look out for each other a hundred percent. They just have each other’s back.”

“Zoe’s treatment is not available here, we ended up, we had to travel for that. We went to America for her radiation treatment.

Susannah was introduced to Redkite through a social worker who gave her the Redkite Diagnosis Support Pack (Red Bag). Both Susannah and James used the counselling support phone line. The family accessed financial services and counselling.  

“We used the counselling support phone line. There were definitely a couple of times when I used it, and there was certainly sometimes when my husband used it. That helpline was a really big part of what we used because you just don’t have time to go anywhere.

“We applied through our social worker for a bill to get paid. We would certainly have needed more financial help if we had remained in Australia during treatment and it was from fundraising that we could support ourselves in the US and the government funding provided.”

Susannah used the Redkite Book Club to learn more about the cancer experience.

“We absolutely loved book club because I think that’s the other thing, you’re grappling to understand this new world and what you’re going through. I might as well have a safe place or get recommended some good areas to go and look for things, so that the sources of stuff I’m looking at is reliable. Book Club was really helpful because I got a book on living with childhood cancer. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was from, but there was stuff in it that was useful. And I remember just sort of going in and out of it, but a lot of it was the kids’ books. I loved the children’s books.”

Zoe is in remission and living life to the fullest.

“Although the initial treatment may have been over in 18 months, it was five years of intense follow up surveillance with three monthly general anaesthesia to have CT and MRI scans to monitor for relapse. The road is very long.

Zoe is what they call technically, some use the word ‘cured,’ some don’t. Because of the type of cancer that she has, she’s in continued ongoing remission. She has a lot of health issues still ongoing as a result.  She’s very bright and sparky and people really love her.”

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