The cost of fighting childhood cancer during COVID

15 February 2024 | Expected time to read: 3 minutes

When 12-year-old Cailey was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, the lifesaving treatment and care she needed kept her apart from the people she loved.

In the space of just a few days, Cailey’s cancer diagnosis turned life upside down, not just for her, but for her whole family.

“It was such a shock,” her mum Gemma remembers. “She went from being a perfectly healthy child one day, to being in hospital fighting for her life a few days later.”

The first sign that Cailey was sick came when she woke one morning in November 2021 feeling dizzy and unable to walk properly.

Her father Daniel took her to the GP, who recommended an MRI. They went to hospital the next day when there was no change in Cailey’s condition, where a brain MRI was conducted with no issues found. Two days later she woke up completely paralysed from the waist down.

Cailey was taken by ambulance to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH), where further tests discovered a tumour on her spine. She was then rushed in for emergency surgery to remove the tumour, after surgeons were concerned it looked malignant.

Cailey was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that impacts around 75 Australian children under the age of 15 each year. She soon began eight long months of treatment, which involved fortnightly rounds of chemotherapy and around 30 rounds of radiation.

“It was really intense for her,” Gemma says. “She spent about two solid months in hospital initially, then had to go back for three to six days each fortnight.”

Cailey’s tumour had supressed her spinal cord and left her with an injury so serious that her doctors were unsure whether she would walk again.

“It was awful for her, especially because she’s such an active girl who loves sports,” Gemma says. “There wasn’t much physical stuff she could do as she spent most of her time during treatment in a wheelchair.”

To make things even harder, COVID restrictions in place at the time meant Cailey was separated from her close-knit family for much of her time in hospital.

“She contracted COVID while she was in hospital and had to spend four weeks in an isolation ward with only Daniel or I, which was a lonely time for her,” Gemma says. “Even when she came out of isolation, she was only allowed one visitor at a time.

“Her brother Blake wasn’t allowed to see her at all while she was in hospital. That was tough on both of them, because they’re really close. Blake got really upset. He was worried about her. As a family we were use to spending most of our time together, so it was a big adjustment for all of us.”

In July 2022, Cailey and her family received the wonderful news that her treatment had been successful. Her cancer was in remission, and it was time for her to go home. It wasn’t, however, the end of her journey with SCH.

Cailey returned in October for an intensive, four-week rehab program to help build her strength, get her walking again and get her ready to go back to school. Gemma says she could not be more thankful to the team who helped Cailey win her fight with cancer and get back on her feet.

“They were amazing. I was so impressed with everyone from her oncologist to all the nurses who cared for Cailey and of course Sky, her physiotherapist. She ended up becoming very close to all of them.”

Today, on International Childhood Cancer Day, Cailey's family are sharing their story to raise awareness about the disease and how it affects families like theirs.

“We’re so thankful for the outcome we had with Cailey, but it’s something I wish no family had to go through. I hope our story can help raise awareness and provide support to those who need it,'' says Daniel.

One of the best ways you can help sick kids like Cailey is by getting involved in this year’s Walk for Kids with Cancer on Sunday 24 March 2024. Now in its 19th year, the event sees our Movement of Many take on an epic 10km or 24km journey from The Rocks to the Northern Beaches.

Cailey and her family are now calling on Sydney Children's Hospitals Foundation's community of unstoppable changemakers to register and fundraise for this year's event. 

"We're so proud that our family and Cailey will be walking the 10km course. It's something we didn't think was possible back then,'' says Daniel.

To walk alongside Cailey and her family at this year's Walk for Kids with Cancer, register now

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