After being diagnosed with a stage-four brain tumour, 15-year-old Caleb now has something to celebrate this Christmas.
Growing up, Caleb was known always known as a “rough and tumble” type of kid. Very much a “boy’s boy”, he loved spending most afternoons playing soccer and rugby union. But, in July 2015, his life took an unexpected turn – one no child should have to experience.
At just nine years old, he started waking up most mornings feeling nauseous and looking awfully pale. His parents took him to their local doctor for cautionary checks, but all they could suggest was a stomach bug.
Caleb continued to decline to the point where he was only lasting 45 minutes at school a day.
Following a mother’s intuition, Suzanne knew something wasn’t right so their local GP referred them to the paediatrician. There it was noticed that Caleb was experiencing slight tremors in his hand whilst undergoing a routine neurological exam. Doctors then asked Caleb to walk heel-to-toe, but this once agile rugby player now struggled to keep balance.
“This instantly rung alarm bells in our head. Caleb can ride a bike, of course he can walk heel-to-toe in a straight line,” recalled Caleb’s mum, Suzanne.
An MRI scan at their local hospital in Port Macquarie confirmed their worst fears – a stage-four cancerous tumour in the back of Caleb’s head. The family was immediately flown to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick for treatment.
On arrival, Caleb and Suzanne were met by a multidisciplinary team of oncologists, social workers and child-life therapists, ready to treat his Medulloblastoma tumour – a cancer that starts in the lower back part of the brain affecting the Cerebellum. The cancer impacted Caleb’s muscle coordination, balance and movement.
Just a few days later, Caleb underwent an eight-hour emergency procedure where doctors removed most of the tumour, but his recovery from surgery wasn’t smooth sailing. He experiences severe weakness on the right-hand side of his body and had an immediate and noticeable droop on the same side of his face.
He went into surgery with a cheeky and recognisable smile but came out without it.
“A smile is one of the most natural things that most humans do without even thinking about it. When you suddenly lose that ability, it can be quite devastating, especially for a young child,” said Rob, Caleb’s stepdad.
The next six weeks of intensive radiation, followed by seven months of chemotherapy, were some of the hardest. But, Caleb never stopped fighting.
In 2016 after countless MRIs, trips to Sydney and endless therapy sessions, the family finally received the news they had all been desperately hoping for – Caleb was in remission.
Now, almost six years later since his diagnosis, 15-year-old Caleb has had further surgery to help him smile again, returned to school, secured a casual job, carried the Commonwealth Baton for the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay and recently hit another incredible milestone – five years of being cancer-free.
This August, Caleb received some more life-altering news – he was “cured”. A moment they will never forget.
“They were really powerful words to us. I didn’t think they would have such an impact, but to hear them was amazing. For him to get to this moment was incredible.”
While Caleb will still have to have yearly check-ups to ensure everything remains on track, he is catching up on the milestones that were missed over the years and making the most of being a teenager.
“Christmas will be such a special time for our family this year. Caleb will be able to help put up the Christmas tree and we can’t wait to spend it with our whole family around the table. It is what we had hoped for, for so many years and so we’re thankful our ultimate wish came true this year.”
To help regional families access world-class treatment whenever and wherever they need it, donate to our Light Up Xmas Appeal. Just $50 can help fund a petrol voucher, so families can be reunited during this special time of year.