How did you find out about your diagnosis with childhood cancer?
Artemis had been increasingly lethargic for a few weeks. She laid down and watched an entire movie for the first time in her life. She wasn’t sleeping well and she looked pale. A few weeks prior to this happening, she had been having intermittent low-grade fevers that Panadol didn’t help and we had been to a local GP who said she was just getting over a virus. We had recently moved from across town and when I decided to book her in for another appointment, I called our old GP because I knew she would run a blood test if I requested one. I was worried because Artemis was eating normally and didn’t have any other obvious symptoms, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously by another GP. She was eating plenty of iron rich foods, so I thought maybe she wasn’t absorbing nutrients properly. We had a late appointment and I spent the entire day thinking about how I was going to make my case to the doctor. When we arrived, the office was full and the receptionist said that our appointment hadn’t been entered into the system correctly, so could we please come back at 6pm, about 2 hours later. We took the kids to get fries. Artemis ate all her fries and drank her water. By the time we got back to the office for our new appointment, Artemis was struggling to walk so I carried her in, and there she proceeded to regurgitate her fries all over the reception area. We went into the GP, where she conducted a basic exam and said yes, we should get a blood test, but that we should go straight to the ED at Canberra Hospital and have it run immediately. Before we even checked into the ED, the registrar looked at Artemis and said, “There’s something wrong with her blood, I can see it in her face.” That night, Artemis had her first blood transfusion and after being examined by a dozen doctors, we were told that they believed she had leukaemia and we would be transferred to Sydney for a bone marrow aspirate to confirm.
What were you diagnosed?
Artemis was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in March 2021 when she was 4 ½ years old. She had 10 months of intensive chemotherapy and steroids at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick and we will be on maintenance chemotherapy at home through March 2023.
How does Artemis win the day?
Artemis wins the day by being happy and by helping others find happiness. She’s always been a happy little girl – it feels like I live with a Disney princess, including the way she randomly breaks into song – but she went through some dark times. At a certain point, I didn’t know if she would come back from it, but she finally did and I’m so proud of her for that. She knows now that she can get through anything difficult and, even if she loses sight of it for a while, find a way to be happy. And there is nothing better than watching her give another kid who is going through a hard time a pep talk! I see the way she cares for others and I know she is going to do great things.
If you weren’t in hospital, what would you be doing?
The biggest thing we missed out on during hospital was living in our own home as a family. Artemis and I had to stay in Randwick to be close to hospital during her intensive chemotherapy, and Jerry and Eli would go back and forth from home. We live about 3 ½ hours from Randwick. We were also separated for an extended period during lockdown and that was really hard. We appreciate being together now. We are currently home, but because Artemis is still on chemo, she only attends school part time and we limit the extracurricular activities. She looks forward to going to school full time and trying more new things.
What will life look like for you in 10 years time?
It’s strange to think in 10 years, we will meet people who won’t have any idea what Artemis and our family has been through. Artemis will be 15 and if she sticks to her current goals, she will be going to school, dancing, and she will have hair like Rapunzel. She will still have regular follow ups with oncology, but I’m hoping we’ll be enjoying more family holidays and less hospital stays. I think there will be hospital visits, maybe to volunteer to entertain the kids on ward or to drop off donations, because I don’t want her to ever forget where she came from and to always remember to reach out a hand to lift others up.