Kristie says she was completely blindsided by her daughter’s cancer diagnosis.
“We were a healthy family who never went to the doctors. Bridgette was a happy, active 11-year-old who just wanted to be outdoors all the time and ride her horse.”
When Bridgette came home early one morning after vomiting at a sleepover, Kristie put it down to a tummy bug. But other symptoms soon started to pile up. Bridgette started waking up in the morning with headaches. Then about a week later, she told her mum, “I can see two of the same horse in the distance.”
Kristie took Bridgette to the GP for blood tests and an MRI. While waiting for the results, they also went to the optometrist, suspecting a vision problem may be the cause of Bridgette’s symptoms. It was the optometrist who first noticed something was seriously wrong.
“You need to get her to hospital urgently,” Kristie remembers him saying. “She’s got severe swelling on both her optic nerves and a little bit of a bleed.”
Within a matter of days, Bridgette had been transferred from Wollongong to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick for a craniotomy to remove a tumour the size of a golf ball from her brain. Thankfully, doctors were able to remove 99% of the growth. But Bridgette’s journey was only just beginning.
“They called my husband and I to the hospital for our results. We walked into a room full of people, so we realised it wasn’t good news.”
Bridgette was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer called an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumour (ATRT), which was highly unusual in a child her age. It was terrifying news for the whole family.
Within days, the family had relocated from their home in Dapto to Sydney for treatment. Bridgette began a treatment protocol at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick that included 60 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of intensive radiotherapy on her brain and spine.
ATRT is a very rare, very aggressive type of childhood brain cancer and just 20 years ago it was completely incurable. Thankfully, her paediatric oncologist had worked in Boston, where a targeted treatment protocol for ATRT had just been successfully developed through a clinical trial.
“It was so reassuring to know her care was in the hands of the experts at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick,” Kristie says. “People who understood all the latest research and procedures for her particular cancer.”
Bridgette’s treatment journey was painful and debilitating on the once active teenager. She often felt nauseous and exhausted and soon needed a wheelchair to get around. Radiation therapy was draining on her body but Kristie said the team at the Hospital were a vital source of comfort, strength and encouragement when she needed them.
“Everyone from the doctors and nurses to the child life therapists was so supportive. They went above and beyond to make sure that Bridgette was as happy, healthy and comfortable as possible.
“We wouldn’t have made it through her treatment without the support and care of the entire team. I can’t thank them enough.”
In August 2022, Bridgette got to ring the end-of-treatment bell, marking the end of her cancer treatment. It was a day of celebration and relief, and the start of a new chapter.
While Bridgette still has a long way to go, with 12 months of rehabilitation to help her learn to walk independently again, she is hopeful that one day she will go back to riding her horse.
Kristie understands how important cancer research has been to her daughter’s survival. She also knows how vital research will be to delivering the life-saving treatments of tomorrow.
“Cancer is horrible for a family to have to go through, but research gives you hope. It’s all about how to do things better, how to improve technologies and medicines. It’s about giving more kids the chance to beat cancer and sparing them from the harshest impacts of treatment.”
Donate to the Light Up Xmas Appeal today to ensure kids like Bridgette get the world-class care they need and deserve.