Brumbies, Raiders legends team up for Ka'ili's battle
Wallabies and Brumbies legend Matt Giteau was in Japan when he learnt his five-year-old niece Ka'ili in Canberra had been diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer.
He was floored but has been inspired by his smiley little niece who loves dance and gymnastics.
"You watch anything that Ka'ili's gone through, I don't know if I could be a quarter as strong as she's been this whole process. She's been amazing," Giteau said.
"It's not a great situation but I think from a family point-of-view, it's really brought us all close together.
"For me, finding out about the diagnosis when I was in Japan was a tough one because you want to be with your family and support them."
Giteau, now back living in Canberra with his wife Bianca and their sons, was always going to help his sister Kristy and her husband Soakai Tai who have had to drop everything to care for their daughter.
Ka'ili was diagnosed with the rare Wilms' tumour in her kidney in July 2019. She has undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant but continues to beam that lovely smile.
Her family is on tenterhooks, waiting for news in January about how well Ka'ili has responded to treatment.
But, in the meantime, Kristy has set up a charity called Win the Day to help other families struggling with a loved one who has rare cancer and to raise funds for cancer research.
Matt Giteau and Canberra Raiders cult hero Josh Papalii have teamed up to be the public face of Win the Day, which will be officially launched on Friday.
"Whether Kristy had the charity or not, I was always going to be there for her and for someone as high-profile as Josh to be involved, it speaks volumes about him," Matt said. "It's also pretty admirable that Kristy has her own issues with Ka'ili but she's looking to help others at the same time."
Josh Papalii said Win the Day was the first charity he had put his name to in his football career.
"I've got a daughter who's the same age and I couldn't imagine going through what the parents have gone through," Papalii said. "I just felt emotionally attached to Ka'ili's situation. I've been 10 years in the game and I just haven't found a charity I've felt emotionally attached to and this is the first time I've put my hand up. I feel I can add some value and help raise money for research."
Papalii said he had looked up to Giteau as a player but they had not met properly until this week to promote the charity. "I'm a massive Brumbies fan as well and he was one of my favourite players growing up as well," he said.
Ka'ili's symptoms started with a sore tummy and then blood when she went to the toilet. Kristy and her husband had to be in Sydney for six months as Ka'ili was treated. Their other two children were cared for by her parents in Jerrabomberra.
Kristy, a teacher, said she felt guilt and then anger over Ka'ili's illness but then realised she had to embrace more positive emotions and try to help others.
She found there were gaps in the system for families battling rare cancers, including in the level of financial assistance, and the charity wanted to close them.
"I felt there has to be a better way for families," she said. "Cancer is cancer and it shouldn't matter what type you have, you should be offered the same assistance and help."
The charity was called Win the Day because it was about taking one step at a time.
"I feel like cancer is so unpredictable and we can't control the treatments they give her, but I can control her going to bed with a smile on her face and being excited for the next day," Kristy said.
"I think, as a family if you can get up and win that day for your child, that's a good day."