Sunday, December 21, 2008

In the St Nick of time

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Monday, 22 December 2008

JOHN SELKIRK/The Dominion Post

EARLY CHEER: Leukaemia sufferer Bianca White woke up to presents yesterday because her treatment will make her and her family miserable at Christmas.

Santa came early for Bianca White, providing some cheer before she starts treatment today that will leave her too miserable to enjoy herself on Christmas Day.

The White family celebrated Christmas yesterday before the five-year-old starts a five-day round of steroid treatment to help her battle against acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Her father, Terence, said Bianca left out some fairy bread and milk for Santa on Saturday night, which must have worked, because she awoke to a pile of presents at the end of her bed. "She woke up and leapt straight into them."

Her favourite present was the board game Mouse Trap, which had been top of her wish list.

Her parents' families in South Africa sent presents early and Bianca, who is a good reader, played Santa's helper, handing out the gifts under the tree to her parents and little sister Caitlyn.

Lea White said her daughter's monthly steroid treatment was always a tough time, turning the sunny little girl "very grumpy and sad". "It's terrible ... basically we anticipate none of us is going to be up to much on the 25th itself and we'd all have more fun if we celebrated early."

Bianca's leukaemia was diagnosed two weeks before her fourth birthday.

Families with child cancer patients in the lower North Island had it even tougher after July last year when Wellington Hospital downgraded its service after the departure of a paediatric oncologist. The other specialist left in January. For 15 months, children had to travel to Auckland and Christchurch for treatment till the arrival in October of husband-and-wife team Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao. Their arrival was too late for the Whites, who moved to Auckland in May to be nearer to specialist services.

Bianca has finished the intensive phase of her treatment but will be on daily chemotherapy tablets, steroids and monthly lumbar punctures till September. Her parents are determined to give her as normal a life as possible. Bianca loves school and Caitlyn, 21 months, has started daycare. Previously, she could not mix with other children because of the threat she could bring bugs home to Bianca, who was especially vulnerable to infection.

Bianca has also been given permission by her doctors to begin swimming lessons and her parents plan to send her to a Child Cancer Foundation camp in January.

Mrs White said she and her husband felt grateful for how far they had come this year. "You don't know what you can bear till you have to we've been privileged to meet some incredible people, doctors and nurses and other families of kids with cancer."