Monday, December 31, 2007

Cancer battle goes online in face of treatment threat

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Tuesday, 27 November 2007

REAL BATTLER: Bianca White with mum Lea is one of many children who could be affected if Wellington's child cancer services are downgraded permanently.

Four-year-old Bianca White has spent large chunks of the past six months in Wellington Hospital, cut off from her friends and the activities she once loved.
Blog: Growing up with cancer

Thousands of miles away in South Africa, her birth country, friends and family are able to follow her daily battle with cancer through her parents' online diary.

As well as reporting on Bianca's gruelling treatment, her mother, Lea White, chronicles "ordinary family life" with baby Caitlyn.

"We were devastated by the diagnosis," Mrs White says. "But right from the start we made the decision to stay positive so her life is not all about the cancer."

Bianca was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in June, two weeks before her birthday. `Bianca' means white and her mother says she lives up to her name. She was always pale and bruised easily - telltale signs of leukaemia - but she was so energetic her parents did not suspect there was a problem.

"She's always been the type to jump straight into anything."

But one day Mrs White was tying up her daughter's hair before her ballet lesson when she noticed a swollen gland on her neck. Blood tests revealed an abnormally high white cell count and Bianca was given an immediate transfusion.

In the first four months, Bianca spent 65 days in hospital, 34 in isolation because of an infection.

She is now on stage three of her treatment, the "delayed intensification phase", with another two years of chemotherapy ahead. All going to plan, she will enter "maintenance" therapy in January, which will continue till late 2009.

The odds are good - her cancer has an 80 per cent survival rate - but life will never be the same.

The emotional, physical and financial toll on the family has been huge. They rely on one income and have had to hire a nanny to care for eight-month-old Caitlyn.

Despite everything, they strive to keep life "as normal as possible" at home in Papakowhai.

However, Mrs White fears that if Bianca had to leave for treatment at Christchurch or Auckland, and the family were split up, cancer would become "the whole focus".

The prognosis for Wellington Hospital's child cancer unit is uncertain as Capital and Coast District Health Board struggles to recruit two paediatric oncologists.

Since the first specialist left in June and the unit was forced to shut to new patients, nine children have been sent out of town for treatment.

The remaining specialist, Anne Mitchell, steps down in January.

Mrs White says if Bianca had to be transferred, the family would move. "I don't want to put her through the pain of a broken home."

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