Childhood leukaemia: Lizzie’s still laughing despite battle

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Lizzie Stephens

With her seemingly endless energy and infectious giggle, she seems just like any other little girl. But Lizzie Stephens’ soft downy hair is only just starting to grow back and is perhaps the only hint the two-year-old is battling leukaemia.

Lizzie’s mum, Melissa, packed a bag and left their life in Atherton on 21 August 2014 when she received the devastating news her daughter had leukaemia. It was a month before Lizzie’s 2nd birthday.

Here Melissa tells her blood cancer story >>

“I remember sitting at the hospital in Brisbane, feeling totally overwhelmed and thinking about how quickly we’d had to leave home. The bin was full and needed emptying, my half finished glass of wine was still on the coffee table and the dirty dinner dishes were in the sink. We have not been back since,” Melissa said.

Being one of the local doctors in the north Queensland town of Atherton, Melissa knew Lizzie’s symptoms were suspicious, although her boundless energy kept her optimistic that it must be something less serious than cancer.

“Lizzie was pale and began to show some bruising, but when her gums began to bleed when I brushed her teeth I knew this could be really serious,” she said.

“We were about to go on holiday to the Gold Coast when I decided to make the trip to the emergency department in Cairns.

“She was so bright and running around, the staff were saying she couldn’t possibly be sick.

“We were wrong. The blood test results were fairly conclusive and that night I knew we had a long, difficult road ahead.”

Leukaemia chemotherapy

As soon as the leukaemia diagnosis was confirmed the family were flown to Brisbane and, after a series of tests, Lizzie started chemotherapy.

“At that stage she was still so bright. They put a drip in her foot and she was actually running around the hospital and I kept thinking, ‘please don’t fall over because your platelets are so low’.”

As part of her treatment, Lizzie was put on steroids which not only made her even more active but also meant she put on a significant amount of weight.

“Lizzie put on 5kg in the first month as a side effect of the steroids and had major food cravings, especially for McDonald’s fries.

“I remember being in McDonald’s one day with Lizzie demanding fries. She had not lost her hair at that point so she looked like a little overweight girl whose mother was feeding her unhealthy food. One lady was looking at me very judgmentally and I thought, ‘you have no idea what we are going through, please don’t judge me for feeding my child fries’.

“Lizzie was in hospital for 10 days before we moved to accommodation close to the hospital. Before long the Leukaemia Foundation offered us a unit at its ESA Village – completely free of charge.”

That’s where Lizzie celebrated her rainbow themed 2nd birthday.

“We arrived from Atherton with just a few clothes and basics, but ESA Village provided everything we needed in a home. It was brilliant.”

Life after leukaemia

Melissa and Lizzie have recently moved out of ESA Village and will settle in Brisbane as Lizzie needs treatment for the next 18 months. Melissa has rented an apartment and started a new job at a local hospital.

“I must admit, I think I’m a much more understanding doctor after what I have been through with Lizzie. I have also learned the importance of just living day-by-day and not sweating the small stuff.

“When people talk about your life being turned upside down, that is so true with leukaemia. Everything changes, there is no routine, I work around Lizzie’s treatment and try to get on with some sort of normality.”

Melissa’s mum comes down to Brisbane from Atherton to help out when she can and Melissa said the Atherton community has been absolutely fantastic in raising funds for Lizzy.

“I will never be able to thank the Atherton community and the Leukaemia Foundation enough for their support and encouragement through this tough time. It has made the world of difference!”

Lizzie is one of the 35 Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer each day. We’re grateful for her and her mum’s support in helping to raise awareness of blood cancers by sharing their story. You can help support the 35 Australians by giving today.

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