Kitty had been complaining of a sore leg for a few days leading up to her diagnosis. She had just performed in two ballet concerts, so her parents put it down to tiredness and/or possible growing pains. On that fateful Tuesday morning, Kitty woke up and refused to walk. Her parents, Karen and Daniel, thought that a shopping trip might help take her mind off things, but it didn’t so she decided to take Kitty to the local hospital for a checkup. There were no visible ailments, so the local hospital sent Kitty and her family to a bigger hospital in Mackay. Kitty was sent for an ultrasound on her stomach and they found a tumor. It was confirmed that Kitty had Stage 4 neuroblastoma. She was four years old.
The absolute last thing you expect to hear when you bring your child in for a sore leg is that they have cancer. Kitty’s family was understandably shocked and devastated to learn about Kitty’s 10cm tumor and that the cancer had spread through her bones, down into her leg and up around her shoulders. Chemotherapy started almost immediately. Amazingly, after her first round of chemo Kitty started to walk again, but she also lost all of her beautiful, long blonde hair – her prize possession being a ballerina. It was heartbreaking but she handled it so well and totally rocked a bald head.
The family realised early on that the hospital where Kitty was receiving treatment was too far away from their home. They had to make the gut-wrenching decision to let their eight-year-old-son son, Finnbar, go back to Proserpine and live with Karen’s parents.
“It allowed him to continue going to school and kept things as normal as possible. I missed him so much, it was the first time in his eight years that I had been away from him.” - Karen (Kitty's mother)
After her second round of chemo, Kitty had her stem cells harvested. She had another line called a vascath put in her neck and was hooked up to a giant machine that harvested her cells. She had to lie still for six hours with only the occasional wiggle allowed – imagine that for a little girl!
Next up, was another three rounds of intensive chemo. Kitty would get so sick with every round. The numerous rounds of chemo caused irreversible damage to her hearing and Kitty now has to wear hearing aids.
Karen and Daniel were relieved to find out that after her fifth round of chemo, Kitty didn’t have to have surgery. Her tumor had reduced so much that there was nothing to operate on.
She went on to have a bone marrow transplant (BMT) and was isolated in a room for four straight weeks. Kitty was in a world of pain.
“Kitty suffered terribly through BMT with mucositis, it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch and really not to be able to do anything to help her.” – Karen
Once out of BMT, Kitty took a very long time to recover and because she was so unwell, she couldn’t have a second BMT which was the recommended treatment. Still, other treatment was started, with 12 days of radiation followed by four rounds of immunotherapy. She wasn’t able to complete her final round of immunotherapy because her kidney function was too low, which resulted in extremely high blood pressure. She suffered two fractured bones in her leg as her bone density has been weakened due to treatment.
Kitty finally got to go home, as a five-year-old, on December 30, 2018 – 13 months after diagnosis.
“We realise that although we’ve been through a great deal, we are one of the lucky ones to have our beautiful daughter here with us.”
The family is doing Run2Cure this year in the hope of raising awareness of this horrible disease which no child should ever have to experience.