Friday, February 29, 2008

Cancer girl's brave little helpers

5:00AM Saturday March 01, 2008
By Eugene Bingham

During her months of life-saving cancer treatment, Petra Hancock just wanted to be a normal kid.

Surrounded by doctors, nurses and her fearful parents, she was a 5-year-old child at the centre of a deadly serious adult world.

Fortunately, solace was never far away. It would come from her twin sister, Libby, who would sit on the Starship hospital bed with a comforting arm around her; or from her 6-year-old brother, Rory, who would lead her to play or paint.

"When she'd have all these adults around her prodding and poking, to have her brother and sister there made it okay for her to switch off and be a kid," Petra's father, Chris, of Whenuapai, said this week.

Petra, whose story appeared in the Weekend Herald in December, is the face of the Child Cancer Foundation annual appeal this month.

For Mr Hancock and his wife, Toni, one of the most important ways the foundation helped was to make them aware of the impact cancer has on siblings.

Research by a foundation volunteer has found that just as it was important for Petra and children like her to have siblings by their side, it was vital the siblings had support too.

The researcher, Rosie Dobson, said brothers and sisters of cancer patients should be made to feel included.

"Allowing them to come up to the hospital can give them a better understanding," she said. Miss Dobson, a research associate at Auckland University, found a mix of impacts during her research, which has been presented internationally.

"Some negative effects included high depressive symptoms and increased anxiety, but there were also some positives such as a feeling that it had brought the family closer together or taught them to be more patient.

"They can be scared about what's going to happen and there was a mention of jealousy."

Parents and other family members should acknowledge what the siblings were going through and that the experience is having a major impact on them too, she said. Mr Hancock said Petra's siblings suffered in their own way, sometimes struggling with the attention being focused on her.

It became particularly important to make sure Libby and Rory understood what was happening when Mrs Hancock's eldest brother died of cancer late last year, explaining that Petra's illness was different.

Petra, who also has a baby brother, Ned, and a 16-year-old half-brother, Josh, will undergo years of scans and check-ups but her cancer is in remission after a nine-month regime of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Her face began appearing on TV this week during advertising for the foundation's March 10-16 appeal.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

'Lucy's fighting back' - Michael Laws

Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 24 February 2008

"It may not be a miracle yet but it's certainly headed in that direction." That's the word today from Wanganui mayor, broadcaster and Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws after specialists radically revised the odds of survival for his three-year-old daughter, Lucy.

Lucy is fighting a rare combination of illnesses leukemia, pneumonia and a fungal infection on her lungs and doctors said 10 days ago they thought she would die. But Laws said that on Friday, the two specialists responsible for Lucy's care Mark Winstanley and Ruellyn Cockcroft said that tests had shown the toddler's outlook was improving.

Said Laws: "To quote Mark Winstanley: `We have results that we did not expect to see' and `the fungus is not behaving as it is meant to be'."

He said the aspergillus fungus did not appear as invasive or immediately fatal as it had looked a week ago. "The difference between last Wednesday's CT scan and this week's is dramatic," Laws said. "It appears to be in retreat and the great fear that it would honeycomb and permanently damage the lungs and create abcesses is retreating with it. She is not out of danger, but she is out of immediate danger. This is fantastic news."

The pneumonia, while still there, looked less harsh than last week and blood tests for the leukaemia suggested Lucy was heading towards remission. "All this means that our initial prognosis has been radically revised. Her odds of survival have gone from 10-20% to 50%-plus. In addition, she looks well and the steroids have ensured she eats well. We are not out of the woods and she is still fighting two life-threatening diseases but ... the odds are now Lucy's and not some statistical freak. Although, we ask ourselves, is Lucy already a statistical freak? Has she already evaded chance and an immediate fate? I think so. And given all the above, who is to say that both Starship's specialists and the power of prayer is not working? "Certainly, not me."

Odds improve for brave little Lucy

Click here for the original article
5:00AM Sunday February 24, 2008
By Michelle Coursey
This picture of Lucy Laws eating spaghetti at Starship was posted on

This picture of Lucy Laws eating spaghetti at Starship was posted on

Wanganui mayor Michael Laws says his dangerously ill daughter's chances of survival are improving but she's not safe yet.

Laws and his partner Leo Brookhammer have been keeping a bedside vigil for almost two weeks while 3-year-old Lucy fights leukaemia, a fungal disease and pneumonia. Yesterday he told the Herald on Sunday she was "not out of the woods".

But on Friday, he announced through his website that a CT scan, lumbar puncture, and bone marrow biopsy had raised Lucy's chances of survival "from 10-20 per cent to 50 per cent-plus". "It may not be a miracle yet... but it is certainly headed in that direction."

Wanganui-born Laws, who has been mayor of the city for four years, announced on February 11 he was taking indefinite leave.

He and Brookhammer flew to Auckland's Starship hospital where Lucy has been through a barrage of treatments and tests.

Laws has written regular updates on her condition on his website and posted pictures of her in hospital.e time/space continuum where nothing else happens except in this room, in this ward and in this hospital," Laws wrote on Tuesday.

"I've caught up with little outside news except that the Waiouru medals were returned and Wanganui has finally received some rain. That's good - Lucy's return to health could complete the trilogy."

Laws has also used the blog to thank people for their prayers for Lucy, and detailed visits by her godfather Norm Hewitt and Wanganui deputy mayor Dot McKinnon.

"Leo and I are very tired now," Laws wrote last Thursday, after a CT scan showed the aspergillus fungal infection was not as prominent as the previous week.

"We're in a war - like all the parents on this ward. Tomorrow will be another battle, another skirmish, another fight and so will the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. Our little girl is the principal combatant, we are the support staff."

Photos of Lucy show her eating and watching a movie in a room decorated with toys, pictures and bright blankets, with Laws calling her a "brave, spunky little girl".

Tests on Thursday showed that Lucy's leukaemia was easing and while the acute pneumonia was still present, it was looking "less harsh than last week".

"In addition, she looks well and the steroids have ensured she eats well. We are not out of the woods and she is still fighting two life-threatening diseases but... but the odds are now Lucy's and not some statistical freak."

McKinnon, who has been acting mayor since Laws went on leave, told the Herald on Sunday she was amazed at the number of well-wishers in Wanganui.

"People all want to know how she is... everywhere I go people are asking. The community has really rallied around for this."

She said Laws and Brookhammer seemed to be "taking turns at being strong", and Laws rang her and his personal assistant daily to update them on Lucy's status.

Every day a prayer meeting was held for Lucy and people were writing messages on a scroll, hoping for further improvement. "Let's hope it continues," she said.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Laws' golden girl needs a 'miracle'

8:30AM Tuesday February 19, 2008
By Simon Woods
Michael Laws. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Michael Laws. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Michael Laws says it will be a "miracle" if his critically ill three-year-old daughter Lucy survives.

Mr Laws took indefinite leave from his Wanganui mayoralty after Lucy was taken to Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital on February 10.

Lucy is suffering from a rare combination of leukaemia and fungal disease aspergillosis and her chances of survival are rated slim at best.

"There is a 10 per cent chance of her pulling through, and the danger is now," Mr Laws said yesterday.

"If she can get to the end of this month, we will be a little bit better."

Mr Laws said there was little he or his partner, Leonie Brookhammer, could do to help Lucy, except spend as much time with her as possible.

He said support from people around the country had kept their spirits high.

"To all the people who sent us messages or cards, thank you. They really do work for us at this time in our lives.

"They've had a significant impact on our morale."

Messages of support had poured in steadily from Wanganui residents of all walks of life, including Lucy's friends at Busy Bee Preschool.

"People in Wanganui have been so good to us."

Meanwhile, Lucy's health continues to vary, although Mr Laws said she was looking slightly happier yesterday.

"It's incredible. If you were to look at her now, you might not think anything's wrong."

But her condition is serious.

Lucy's doctors know of only one other example of a child suffering from leukaemia and the specific fungal infection, aspergillosis, at the same time.

"The treatment is experimental. Usually they treat either the leukaemia or the fungus but they can't afford to choose one because they're both life-threatening. They need to treat both at the same time," Mr Laws said.

"She couldn't contract anything simple, she had to go and contract one of the rarest combinations out there."

Lucy has been prescribed at least half a dozen different drugs, including steroids, to fight the leukaemia, and is getting regular blood transfusions.

"She had literally no white blood cells."

Compounding the situation, Lucy's younger sister Zoe had unknowingly been in contact with someone suffering from chicken pox.

This means Lucy will not be able to see her for two weeks, because of the risk of infection.

"It makes things hard because they're very, very, very close," Mr Laws said.

And Lucy herself has no idea how serious things are.

"She thinks she's just not well and she's in hospital. We haven't really spoken to her about what's happening.

"We need a miracle, and I ask for people to pray for Lucy. She's my golden girl and ever since she's appeared she's been the light in my life."

Mr Laws has previously been involved in raising money for cancer research, selecting the Cancer Society as his chosen charity when taking part in the Dancing With The Stars television show last year.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Michael Laws' daughter diagnosed with leukaemia

NZPA | Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The three-year-old daughter of Wanganui mayor Michael Laws has been diagnosed with leukaemia and is also suffering from acute pneumonia.

Mr Laws announced yesterday he was taking indefinite leave as his daughter Lucy had been flown to Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland on Sunday.

After media and public inquiries Mr Laws today gave details of Lucy's illness.

In a statement he thanked all well wishers for their kind thoughts and prayers.

Mr Laws expected to return to Wanganui early next week, but his partner Leonie and Lucy would remain in Auckland much longer.

The couple asked that there be no more media inquiries as they dedicated their energy to supporting their children and making Lucy well.

Due to infection risk he asked that no further flowers be sent to Lucy.

Mr Laws has previously been involved in raising money for cancer research, selecting the Cancer Society as his chosen charity when taking part in the Dancing With The Stars television show last year.