Saturday, November 28, 2009

Love and locks

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By KIM KNIGHT - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2009

Photo: Kevin Stent
Hair goes: Becs Todd, Shanell Christian and Catherine Ternent are shaving their heads for the Child Cancer Foundation.
Kyah Milne

WAS IT her pregnancy-induced craving for barbecue-flavoured crackers? The cola drinks she consumed through gestation? That moment, when her brother was on life support after a car crash, she asked "whoever was listening" to take her peanut-sized unborn daughter instead?

"My big thing was, what did I do to cause this?" says Shanell Christian. "And of course, I did nothing."

Shanell doesn't know why her daughter got cancer. But a year after the death of Kyah, the little girl she calls her butterfly princess, the voice in her head tells her: "You can't change anything. Focus on the now."

Kyah would have turned four yesterday. Her 32-year-old mum wonders what her voice would have sounded like, how long her hair would have been.

"I've got her baby book at home, and it ends at three. It's supposed to be her first five years. Her first day at kindy, her first day at school, who her teacher is. I could make it up, but, you know, that stuff is never going to be filled out..."

Shanell's family has been to hell and back since Kyah was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma, but today, on a comfy couch in a sun-soaked Wellington house, she is as ordinary as the next person.

Everyone in this room is a cancer mum.

Next week, Shanell Christian, Catherine Ternent, Becs Todd and Alma Te Maipi will shave their heads to raise money for the Child Cancer Foundation. Only three of them made it to the Sunday Star-Times photo shoot – Alma was on a train heading north to her ill father. Back home, her 18-year-old son David, who has rhabdomyosarcoma or soft tissue cancer, has been told he may have as little as two months left to live.

"His cancer has gone from his head, to his legs, to his lungs," his mother explains, on a cellphone that cuts out as the train enters a tunnel. "I'm just not ready. He doesn't mind talking about it. But I have a hard time. Planning my son's funeral."

A party, instead? There'll be a bit of an open home soon, says Alma. A $1.50 party – a joking reference to a disputed bus fare that recently landed her son, who only wants to be allowed to be a teenager, in trouble with the police.

"I didn't know whether to hit him or hug him or yell or cry."

David and his "bucket list" – the tattoo, the bungy jump and the sky-dive – have received national media coverage.

Now it's his mum's turn. She hasn't cut her hair for 11 years. "But the Child Cancer Foundation has been there for us from day one. It's kind of like giving back from our family, for other families."

Catherine Ternent is thinking of it as a new beginning.

"It's time for a fresh start." Her now nine-year-old son Sean was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006. She was in Fiji, steadying a rocky marriage, when he got sick.

Catherine and her husband stepped off the plane and into Wellington Hospital.

"And that was it for the next 18 months."

Nine tiny words for the nightmare that followed, for the day her older son donated his bone marrow to his younger sibling, for the time when Sean's body rejected the transplant, for the breakdown of her marriage, to now – two years in remission and counting.

It all happened so quickly. "His breathing changed, and then he was on oxygen and they're moving him to intensive care, and the next thing he's full of tubes and God knows what and the next morning the doctors are telling us they don't think he's going to make it, and we're on the Life Flight to Starship hospital and then we get called into the bad news room. And they're saying, definitely, it's cancer."

It's Shanell who fetches the tissues when the memories make Catherine cry. When Kyah was dying, it was Catherine and Becs (two days into a brand new job and fitting this interview into her lunchbreak) who did the shopping and filled the house with baking.

What happens to a mum when their child gets cancer? "You become that lioness," says Shanell. "You will fight to the death."

Her relationship with Kyah's father, Jason, has not survived. She shares custody of their two sons, Jordan and Kaleb.

"When Kyah got sick and become my sole focus, everybody took a back seat, including my boys. When she died, everything shifted back to them, how were they coping...but it never came back with Jason. We'd grown apart."

Experts say this is common. Many relationships don't survive the loss, or extreme illness, of a child.

"It does either make you or break you as a couple," says Catherine.

Becs Todd's husband Matt died in 2006, after battling a brain tumour for three years. In April last year, their son Liam was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer in his sinus cavity. It was a dental health surgeon who had to break the news. Liam had an abscess and they took a biopsy. When Matt's oncologist walked into the room, Becs knew she was facing the worst case scenario – again.

"And unfortunately for Liam, he had already had that experience with cancer, so he knew it could kill you."

He talked about it just the once: "He said, `mum, I don't really want to die'. And I said, `that's all right mate, I don't want you to die either'."

A 10-hour operation removed the tumour and all the bone in his cheek and upper jaw. His face was reconstructed using bone from his leg.

"Because his tumour was so rare, we don't know what the outcome will be, but so far, he's 18 months clear and there's no sign of any residual tumour on the scan, so we'll take that."

Liam heads to Auckland this week, a nine-year-old rugby playing contender in the Attitude TV "courage in sport" award.

"It's the same day as the head shave," says Becs. "So I'm going to the ceremony with a bald head..."

The former police sergeant, who is retraining with Ernst and Young's audit service, says her son "has taken life by the scruff of its neck, and I'm really proud of him".

Everything has irrevocably changed – but Becs doesn't dwell on the negative.

"I'm a mum, and my son and daughter need me. It doesn't matter that their bedrooms are messy, that they haven't eaten their school lunch. What matters is they're still standing there living, breathing and you've still got them in your life."

THE REMARKABLY frank blog that Shanell Christian started to inform friends and family about Kyah (which eventually caught the country's attention) is still, intermittently, updated. November 19, the anniversary of her daughter's death: "365 days ago... I was gently placing Kyah into the transfer car to be taken away to the funeral home... it was our first time away from her in a long time. But it was to be the start of our new forever."

In those final weeks, her son Jordan stood in front of his class, to give his daily news report. "My sister is going to die any day," he said matter-of-factly.

Kyah's brothers, she says, are very resilient. "They learnt what death was at a very young age. I wrote in the journal that I was gutted it shattered their innocence, because they didn't feel safe in the world, because if their little sister could die, anything could happen. And now they're going through the whole separation thing. I am very, very proud of them."

There is an old cliche – you can't keep your kids in cotton wool. But it's hard, say these mums, when your kid has had cancer. An unexplained bruise? Tiredness? "You just want to race in and get tests done," says Shanell.

It is, they say, amazing what a human being can cope with. "If someone had said to me, `this is what's going to happen, this is how you're going to react' – I would have either hit them or fainted," says Shanell.

She follows no religion, has no faith. "And if I did, I wouldn't now. It's not so much that we lost Kyah, but the suffering she went through in the last four weeks. She was just a shell. It was just disgusting to watch this person who had been so lively and vibrant, just sleep and be in pain."

In the days after Kyah's death, a white, butterfly-shaped moth flitted about the house. Last December, when Shanell and her husband escaped, unhurt, from a car crash, a monarch butterfly circled them until the police arrived. You look for signs, she says. And sometimes you find them.

These mums live life a day, a week, sometimes a month at a time.

Financial strain is a given. Alma is taking the train north because she can't afford an airfare. Catherine is shifting house and her rent is about to rise $20 a week. "I'm thinking, what can I cut out now?" They have all seen families slide backwards when parents are forced to quit work to care for their children.

But here's another cliche: "Money certainly can't buy you everything," says Shanell. "It can't buy you your child's life back, it can't buy you a wrong diagnosis. Money certainly didn't buy me happiness."

Petrol vouchers. Groceries. Outings for kids who have cancer, and their siblings who don't. Support workers. A house, with a room full of DVDs and games, where it's OK to talk about your child's toxic pee and the vomiting and diarrhoea and the very real fear that they might just die. Those are the things cash can buy.

Every 2 1/2 days, a New Zealand child will be diagnosed with cancer. At last year's "funrazor" more than 700 people lost their locks to raise more than $500,000 nationwide. These four women hope their efforts will lift the Child Cancer Foundation's coffers by at least $50,000.

Listen to their stories and think of them as brave and amazing and capable of anything. But going bald? They're terrified.

Catherine: "I was touching my hair this morning, thinking `oh my God'."

Shanell: "You talk to other people, and you think, `why am I getting so worked up, it grows back, and we're choosing this and so many people don't get that choice..."'

Alma: "I will probably be in tears."

Lunch has just been delivered to the CCF house. Frittata and ham and egg sandwiches. The women eat, make phone calls to extend childcare, and catch up on each other's news.

Shanell's friends say her experience made them appreciate their kids more.

"They say, `when my children draw on the wall, or tip paint on the TV, I think, you're still here and Kyah's not'. And I'm thinking, `really? God, if my kids did that, I'd scream'."

Catherine sums it up: "It's amazing how normal life is."

And yet, "attached to that is all the stuff that's gone before, that we've experienced over the last couple of years".

Her son tells people there is a one-in-a-million chance his cancer will come back.

"But maybe a piece of you is always a bit cautious and always will be, as much as you want to be positive."

Shanell's brother died in ICU, two weeks after his car accident. It was, she says, a completely different kind of grief. "You'll never ever love anybody else like your children... you plan a future for them, so to be diagnosed and lose that fight, I don't know if you can compare that to anything. Not even if I was diagnosed."

Catherine: "You'd be thinking about your kids!"

They laugh. Bittersweet. Because they are brave and amazing and capable of anything.

Funrazor events take place nationwide this week. Shanell, Catherine, Becs and Alma will lose their locks live on TV1's Good Morning show, Thursday, December 3, from 9am. To donate directly, go to:

For information on child cancer:

Monday, October 26, 2009

The doctor is in

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By KATHERINE NEWTON - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 27/10/2009

Joshua Wood
PHIL REID/The Dominion Post
MAKING LIFE EASIER: Joshua Wood, 13, with his dog Biggles, is one of the children who will continue to benefit from having a paediatric oncologist at Wellington Hospital.

Families and staff at Wellington Hospital's embattled child cancer service have been given hope after the unit's remaining specialist extended her contract.

American locum Sarah Strandjord has been the sole paediatric oncologist at Wellington Hospital since husband and wife team Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao left in August.

The pair's resignations in April sparked a downgrade of the unit to a secondary service until at least the end of 2010 – meaning children needing acute care had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Dr Strandjord was due to leave the unit this month, but will now stay until at least April next year.

Children and their families will still have to travel for diagnosis and acute treatment, but in most cases will receive follow-up care in Wellington.

Through a Capital and Coast District Health Board spokesman, Dr Strandjord said she had "discovered many excellent services and people" at the hospital and was pleased to be staying longer.

Tony Wood, whose son Joshua, 13, has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, said the news was "just fantastic".

"Everybody from early on realised how important and pivotal she was to maintaining some form of care there – and how good she was.

"She gives us enormous confidence."

Mr Wood was also impressed with the support the family received when they travelled to Starship children's hospital for week-long acute treatment twice this year.

Joshua "hated the entire week", but free flights to Auckland, taxi chits, grocery vouchers and being able to contact a Capital and Coast staff member at all times helped make the time away from home easier, Mr Wood said.

John Robson, chairman of the Child Cancer Foundation's central division, was delighted by Dr Strandjord's contract extension.

The region's child cancer service had been a "jumbled-up jigsaw" for years, he said. "Sarah's always been that piece we couldn't find. If she wasn't going to stay we were in a really difficult position."

Mr Robson was keen to "keep the pressure on" the district health board to ensure the unit's long-term future.

Health Minister Tony Ryall announced last week that a new National Health Board to be set up by Christmas would take over national funding and planning of specialist services, including paediatric oncology.

Mr Robson said it was not clear yet what effect that would have on Wellington Hospital's child cancer service. "The fact that the ministry is naming it as a service that's important is hugely positive."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tree plant marks last treatment for cancer

By SARAH CODDINGTON - North Shore Times
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2009

Bianca White
NEW BEGINNINGS: Bianca White plants a tree at Oteha Valley School in celebration of her last chemotherapy treatment.

Bianca White celebrated an end to more than two years of chemotherapy treatment by planting a tree.

The six-year-old who featured on the Dominion Post website with the blog – Growing up with Cancer – held a special planting ceremony at Oteha Valley School to celebrate a new start with her classmates.

The year 1 student was diagnosed with acute lympho blastic leukaemia, a common child cancer in 2007.

Just before her fourth birthday party Bianca was diagnosed with the disease in Wellington.

After problems at the hospital the family made the move to Auckland’s Starship.

Her father Terence White says their daughter does not realise the significance of this day but she is now looking forward and happy.

"I want her to grow up like other kids, ride bikes, fall off and scrape her knees," says Mr White.

He says until now she has grown up with doctors and nurses and now it is time for her to be a child.

Bianca chose all the special people she wanted to be part of her tree planting ceremony, including friends, teachers and the junior school.

She then put a capsule underneath her six-year-old magnolia

When she turns 21 she will come back to dig up a jar that holds memories of the

Her family also celebrated the end of treatment by buying her and her sister Caitlyn a new bike.

During the past two years Bianca has collect more than 1000 beads from the Child Cancer Foundation, each represents a part of her cancer treatment.

Although Bianca is not in the clear she has finished treatment and is only taking preventive medication.

She will continue hospital check ups for the rest of her life.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bianca puts all that treatment behind her

By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 21/09/2009

Bianca White
THE BIANCA TREE: Oteha Valley School planted an evergreen magnolia to mark the end of Bianca White's treatment. She calls it the Bianca tree.

In the past two-and-a-half years, Bianca White has spent 117 days in hospital, battled many infections, submitted to countless tests and suffered through chemotherapy.

'When will I be done with cancer?" Bianca White asked her mother as they counted out the last few chemotherapy doses.

She has now finished treatment and doctors have given her the all-clear but in some ways, cancer will always be part of their lives, says her mother, Lea.

"I look back to that terrible day when she was diagnosed, and at the time it felt like we'd been given a prison sentence ... But now it seems like it's gone so fast."

Bianca was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in June 2007, two weeks before her fourth birthday.

"She doesn't remember a time before she had cancer and, in some ways, that was easier, because she didn't mourn for the life she had lost. She just accepted it. But it feels weird for us now."

Bianca is enjoying not having every meal timed to fit her chemotherapy schedule. And she was surprised recently to learn the port in her chest (for intravenous medication) will soon be removed. She thought it was part of her body.

Mrs White has chronicled Bianca's ups and downs on her blog Growing Up With Cancer on and attracted more than 8200 hits in the past two months.

Watching your child suffer is the worst experience a parent could have but the experience has made the family stronger, Mrs White says.

Another blessing has been the close bonds they have formed with other families in similar predicaments.

"Those kids become friends because, a lot of the time, they can't mix with other children because of the risk of infection. And only other parents really know what you're going through because they're living it too." There was heartbreak along the way sharing with other families as they dealt with relapses, setbacks and sometimes the deaths of their children.

Right from the start, Lea and husband Terence were determined they would keep life as "normal" as possible.

Baby sister Caitlyn, now 2 1/2, helped with this. "She took a lot of the focus off the medical stuff cancer wasn't the only thing in our lives."

Last May, the family decided to move to Auckland because of uncertainty over the future of specialist child cancer services in Wellington. "We wanted to make sure that, whatever happened, we could face it together."

The Wellington unit has since been permanently downgraded to a secondary service, with support from Christchurch.

Starting at Oteha Valley School on Auckland's North Shore has been another milestone for Bianca.

The school held a ceremony and planted an evergreen magnolia last week to mark the end of Bianca's treatment.

Bianca has named it "the Bianca tree" and it is the same age as her.

"I want her to take life lessons from all this," her mother says. "One day, when she looks back and sees what she achieved, she will know nothing is impossible for her.

"We will never deny this has happened."

Read the final Growing Up With Cancer blog post at

Friday, September 18, 2009

Young cancer sufferer chases his dream of playing in black

By TANYA KATTERNS - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 19/09/2009

BIGGEST FAN: Brad Burt says he had been ticking off the days till he got to meet his hero Richie McCaw.
BIGGEST FAN: Brad Burt says he had been ticking off the days till he got to meet his hero Richie McCaw.

Pure determination has helped Brad Burt battle through two major operations to remove a massive tumour from his brain stem.

And the young rugby fanatic was able to inspire All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, as he mixed with the players during the captain's run in Wellington yesterday.

The 10-year-old, from Greytown, who refuses to let the cancer ruin his own dream of one day wearing the black jersey, shook off memories of months of treatment to tell McCaw: "Go hard, Richie, you guys can pull this off."

Over the past 10 months, Brad has endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to rid him of the tumour. It will be December before his treatment is over and at least three years before his family know whether he has been cured.

Yesterday's meeting with "the greatest rugby team on Earth" had been a dream for some time, he said. "I've been ticking off every day in a special calendar. It has meant so much to me and it has helped me stop thinking about operations and blood transfusions and the hospital."

With the support of the Make a Wish Foundation, Brad, his older brother Josh and parents Illana and Glenn, have been given three days in Wellington, taking in the test match tonight and Brad's wish of meeting the All Blacks.

McCaw, who signed Brad's bald head, said it was a privilege to be able to put a smile on the youngster's face. "He's pretty inspirational ... a guy like that has obviously had a tough time and I guess the chance to put a smile on his face with something like this is a pretty easy thing from our point of view."

Brad, who was a standout prop in his under-11 team before he got sick, continues to have a never-say-never attitude seeking advice from McCaw as he chases his All Black dream.

"[I told him] just enjoy it, that's what sport is all about," McCaw said. "That's why I still play. I'm sure that's why he comes along and as long as he keeps smiling, that's the key."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

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By KATHERINE NEWTON - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2009

Liam Todd
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
TIGHT-HEAD TERRIER: Liam Todd, 8, is back in the game he loves, playing tight-head prop for his Waikanae rugby team after surgery for a facial tumour.

A year after a rare facial tumour sidelined Liam Todd, the eight-year-old is back on the rugby field with a new jaw and a new lease of life.

Last April, Liam was found to have an aggressive myoepithelioma tumour. He was the youngest of just a handful of people in the world to have the rare form of cancer.

Doctors discovered the tumour growing beneath Liam's left eye just two years after his father, Matt Todd, died of brain cancer.

Liam's mum, Rebecca, said the family braced itself for another fight, but specialists at Hutt Hospital's plastic surgery unit were able to remove the tumour and reconstruct the left side of Liam's face using bone from his leg to make a new jaw.

Now Liam has been given the all-clear, after a CT scan six weeks ago showed no sign that the cancer had returned.

With the go-ahead from his plastic surgeon, he has thrown himself back into his favourite sport, playing tight-head prop for his Waikanae under-9 team.

He said his favourite part of the game was "running with the ball" and he had even scored a try. Mrs Todd said Liam was doing really well. "He's got player of the day three times."

She had got over her initial apprehension about letting him back into the fray, she said. "I can't wrap him in cotton wool I've got to let him go."

The family could finally move on now, she said. "Hopefully this is just a little bump on the road and it's all plain sailing from here."

Friday, June 19, 2009

An autograph to crown 'em all

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By STACEY WOOD - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2009

Meads std
ROSS GIBLIN/ The Dominion Post
PEN TO PATE: Sir Colin Meads signs his name on the head of cancer patient Josh Wood, 13, right, and did the same for Josh's brother Jonathan, 10, who has alopecia.

Josh Wood lost his hair to cancer, but his smooth head made the perfect canvas for Sir Colin Meads' autograph.

Meads spent the morning before a charity auction yesterday visiting sick children at Wellington Hospital. At the youngsters' request, he scrawled his signature on the smooth heads of Josh, 13, who has leukaemia, and his brother Jonathan, 10, who is not ill but has alopecia, a condition which causes people to lose their hair.

Meads said it was the first time he had signed a scalp, but for Josh it was not a new experience.

"I went to a camp and everybody signed my head."

Josh has 18 months of treatment to go and will have to travel to Auckland for part of it.

Meads flew by helicopter to the hospital with Liam Todd, 8, who is recovering from a rare, aggressive tumour in his sinus cavity. Liam was a bundle of nerves before the flight but by the end he was grinning from ear to ear.

"He thought it was absolutely marvellous, he wanted to go again," mother Rebecca said.

Liam has a special connection to the rugby legend. "Liam's great-grandfather is Ernie Todd, who was one of my managers many years ago," Meads said.

Before going to the 12th Champions Charity luncheon, he visited a few more young patients and gave tackling tips to a pair playing an All Blacks video game.

Fellow rugby greats Andy Haden, Jamie Joseph, Ian Kirkpatrick, Grant Fox, Walter Little and Michael Jones joined him in raising money for the Child Cancer Foundation.

Among the memorabilia up for auction was a jersey signed by the three "rugby knights" Meads, Sir Wilson Whineray and Sir Brian Lochore.

Foundation fundraising manager Amanda Nicolle said the auction had raised about $60,000 by yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Child cancer unit loses downgrade fight

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Last updated 05:00 12/06/2009

ROSS GIBLIN/ The Dominion Post
EXTRA PRESSURE: Five-year-old cancer patient Riley Thompson finds support from mum Alison at Wellington Hospital's child cancer unit, which has been downgraded.
KENT BLECHYNDEN/ The Dominion Post
BRAVE FACE: Stephen Uelese - with his treatment beads - and mum Marika Broad.

Wellington's embattled child cancer unit has been downgraded until at least the end of 2010.

After more than a decade of uncertainty caused by the successive resignations of health professionals, Capital and Coast District Health Board announced yesterday that the unit would only provide a "high-level secondary service" for at least 18 months.

This means families of complex or new patients from the lower North Island face the additional stress of travelling to Christchurch or Auckland for treatment.

Capital and Coast chief executive Ken Whelan said it was "pretty clear" that the hospital could no longer offer a tertiary service. "[Downgrading] is our safest and only immediate course of action."

The downgrade was sparked by the resignations of Wellington's two paediatric oncologists husband and wife team Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao who will leave the unit in August after less than a year in the job.

The pair could not be contacted for comment, but correspondence given to The Dominion Post last month blamed hospital management's "hampering" attitude and lack of support for their resignations.

A locum doctor from the United States will remain at the unit until October.

Mr Whelan said the board would work with a group of families, clinicians and administrators to determine what changes were needed to build a sustainable unit and make tertiary services viable again for sick Wellington children.

In the meantime, the board would provide extra funding and support to families who had to travel to get treatment.

Criticisms that the board should have made changes sooner were unjustified, Mr Whelan said.

"It's pretty easy to look back through the retroscope and say that but, when you're in it at the time, it's more difficult to see that solution."

Marika Broad, whose son Stephen Uelese, 9, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October 2007, said the news was like being "smacked in the face".

"I think it's absolutely appalling of the DHB."

Stephen will receive maintenance treatment in Wellington, but Ms Broad feared that the family would be uprooted if he needed surgery.

"It still might affect us when we need theatre procedures."

She was sceptical about the board's promise of extra funding and support for travelling families. "They've spoken about funding before and where's that?"

John Thompson, whose son Riley, 5, was diagnosed with leukaemia 18 months ago, said the downgrade meant "additional agony" for those families forced to travel.

Other parents at the unit were more optimistic.

Catherine Ternent, whose son Sean, 8, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma aged 5, said although the situation was "not ideal", at least the board had a plan.

"While it's not helpful, at least there's hope this time. We'll be keeping them honest."

John Robson, chair of the Child Cancer Foundation's central division, said there had been "many let-downs and a lot of disappointment over the years", but he was hopeful the board would keep its promises this time. "We've never previously sat down with the CEO. This is an opportunity for us to actually make a better service."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chch tipped to be centre

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By KIM THOMAS - The Press
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2009

ROBERT KITCHIN/The Dominion Post
WELL TRAVELLED: Wayne Cherry, 14, commutes to Christchurch from his Wellington home for cancer treatment.

Christchurch is likely to be one of two main centres for child cancer treatment in New Zealand.

Wellington had "10 paediatric oncologists in a decade", with its two present child cancer specialists leaving in about two months.

Clinicians and managers from the Canterbury District Health Board are this week meeting their counterparts in Wellington to "discuss issues around paediatric oncology and to look at a range of options".

Health sector sources say it is likely two treatment centres will be established in Auckland and Christchurch.

Lower North Island patients will be treated in either centre, depending on bed availability.

Health Minister Tony Ryall has told the Capital and Coast District Health Board it needs to sort out the situation.

Christchurch child cancer specialist Michael Sullivan said the Wellington service had fallen over four times in the past decade.

"They have had 10 paediatric oncologists in a decade and are still not able to fix the problems."

It was unclear what services Wellington could provide after its two specialists left, and what would be required of Christchurch and Auckland, he said.

"What everybody is seeking is clarity."

Shifting cancer treatment centres was hard on families midway through treatment, but the move would be less difficult for new families, he said.

Sullivan said a child cancer service needed a larger population base.

"We cannot provide a comprehensive childhood cancer service with anything less than 900,000 people. Child cancer is an infrequent [condition] and if you're trying to have a population base of 500,000, it just doesn't work."

To cater for Wellington patients, Christchurch would need to hire a third paediatric oncologist and possibly extra nursing staff, Sullivan said.

Capital and Coast District Health Board operations director of women's and child health, Delwyn Hunter, said its paediatric oncology service faced several staffing challenges.

"We are in discussions with the two other tertiary centres for this specialty (Christchurch and Auckland) to discuss the extent of support which will be available when two of our specialist doctors depart."

The board had sought advice from the national paediatric oncology steering group which is led by clinicians from across the country about the long-term future of the service at Wellington Hospital.

"We are committed to providing child cancer services from Wellington Hospital the only question which remains unanswered is what level those services can extend to."


Teenage cancer patient Wayne Cherry has flown between his Wellington home and Christchurch Hospital for treatment at least a dozen times in the past year.

Wayne, 14, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in February 2008 and immediately sent to Christchurch for five weeks initial treatment.

Wellington Hospital was unable to treat the teenager after the resignation of its two paediatric oncologists. About a year later Wellington's two replacement paediatric oncologists have resigned and Wayne expects to spend more time in Christchurch's cancer ward.

His mother, former long-distance swimmer Meda McKenzie, said Christchurch's child cancer team was excellent.

However, she was concerned about the uncertainty over the Wellington child cancer treatment service.

"Families keep meeting with the (Capital and Coast) health board and there is a lot of talking, but no decisions seem to be made.

"We don't get a choice; we need the treatment, and have to wait in limbo to see where we will be sent."

McKenzie said Wayne was in the treatment maintenance phase, which required a chemotherapy injection every couple of months.

The injection took about 20 minutes. "It seems silly to send him all the way to Christchurch for a 20-minute injection," she said.

Wayne said he was used to staying in Christchurch and really liked the doctors and nurses.

However, he preferred his few months of treatment in Wellington because he could go home after chemotherapy.

"I miss my friends and it's easier to go home than stay in hospital."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peter's quiet joy

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By JUSTIN LATIF - Western Leader
Last updated 05:00 19/05/2009

HAPPY: Peter Pirie and his mum Bridget enjoy the festivities.

Cancer patient Peter Pirie doesn’t talk much because of his down syndrome. But his smile said it all on Thursday when The Funky Monkeys turned up at his house for a special performance.

The brave six-year-old’s pleasure was equally obvious when he saw the new playground and trampoline that arrived earlier in the week.

It all came courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charitable trust that fulfils the dreams of youngsters with deadly diseases.

Peter, who lives in Ranui, was diagnosed with leukaemia a year ago.

His family applied to the foundation on his behalf, asking for something Peter would be able to enjoy with his eight-year-old brother Griffin.

Everyone is thrilled with the outcome.

"Peter was already a Funky Monkeys fan," his father Colin says.

"But he’ll like them even more now.

"And he’s been playing on the trampoline ever since, despite the rain.

"We definitely appreciate the foundation’s efforts.

"It’s fantastic that they’ve organised all this and it’s really amazing how much Peter has enjoyed it."

Peter is a pupil at Waitakere Primary School and has another 18 months left of treatment for his leukaemia.

Colin is positive his son will come through it all. "The first year is the hardest but he’s doing well."

Funky Monkeys spokesman Chris Lam Sam says the performance had double significance for himself and fellow members Neil Tolan and Joe McNamara.

"It’s the first time we’ve done something for Make-A-Wish and the first time we’ve performed on a driveway," he says.

"Peter could have chosen an All Black or television celebrity to visit but he chose us instead so we’re very honoured."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was started in 1980 in the United States and is now in 27 countries. It relies on donations and volunteers to make its activities possible.

Call 920-4760 or email if you can help.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Royal battle with cancer

Click here for original article.

League star hit by son's devastating diagnosis

CATH BENNETT - Sunday News
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2009

WARRIORS star Jesse Royal fears no one on the football field.

But the tough-as-teak prop has been left devastated after his three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer.

Doctors broke the heartbreaking news to Jesse and wife Kylie last month and the pair have since watched helplessly as little Matarae undergoes gruelling chemotherapy.

The tot has stage three Burkitt's lymphoma a cancer of the immune system, which has led to the growth of a tumour.

"For a kid who's about to turn four, he's a pretty tough little man," Kylie wrote on a webpage devoted to her brave boy.

"At first he was scared with all the needles and tubes, but he's learning to deal with it ."

Jesse has spent the last few weeks dividing his time between his son's bedside at Auckland's Starship children's hospital and training with the Warriors, who he'll turn out for against the North Queensland Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium today.

The former New Zealand army chef only returned to his homeland in February having moved to Oz in 2004 and three years later making his NRL first-grade debut with the Newcastle Knights.

When his contract ended, he began working in the coal mines in Newcastle and planned to join a local club until the Warriors came knocking and signed him up for two years.

But the Waikato-born league star's world fell apart on April 16 when, after a series of tests, he was told Matarae had cancer.

While their son's illness is too painful for the 28-year-old or his wife to talk about, the couple are hoping their plight will raise funds for the Child Cancer Foundation.

"I looked at my son and my heart broke," Kylie wrote. "I couldn't believe this was happening."

Matarae, who has a little brother Tumai, began his first bout of chemotherapy on April 27 and nine days later was discharged from hospital. But a viral infection saw him back at Starship eight days ago, where he has remained as he prepares for his next round of chemo next week.

Helping the family pull through have been donations and messages of support from the many people who have visited Kylie's webpage.

Warriors coach Ivan Cleary and wife Rebecca, plus legendary halfback Stacey Jones and wife Rachelle, are among those who have pledged generous amounts and left thoughtful comments.

"I am absolutely amazed at the loving support from everyone," Kylie wrote.

"Thank you so much."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

`They've given me 11 months to live...But I reckon I can live for 50 more years'

Click here for the original article.

Anthony Hubbard - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 05:00 10/05/2009

With courage: David Te Maipi's new moko is about family.

DAVID TE MAIPI was 15 when a huge lump came up on his face. The doctors gave him antibiotics and told him to massage it: they thought a lymph gland was blocked. The lump, covering half his face, didn't shrink. Then they did a biopsy. When was that? he asks. September 2006, says his mother, Alma. It was cancer.

Chemo and radiation treatment didn't help, "so they just had to cut it out", says David, now 17. "It took 12 hours." He went back to school "and later I relapsed".

He had a big lump on his right leg. Then he had more chemo and radiation and they had to cut that lump out too.

"And then it came back again in February this year. And now it's back in my leg and my chest." "And your lungs," says his mother.

David says: "They've given me 11 months to live, but I think I can live that out. I reckon I can live for 50 more years," and he laughs. David laughs a lot. He's "not too bothered" about having a fatal illness. "It's just something that happened, I guess, and there's not really much I can do about it."

People in the street notice his battered face and ask what happened to him. "I say, `Cancer.' Then they say, `Oh, sorry.' And I go, `No, it's OK."' David laughs briefly. "I like it when people ask. I guess I like telling them in a way. Yes, it's not all just sitting in there, you're letting it out."

David is sitting on the edge of a seat in his bedroom at the family home in Te Marua, near Upper Hutt. The huge lump on his leg makes it too uncomfortable to sit back. Opposite is the enormous plasma TV given to him by the Make a Wish Foundation. "Me and mum have got a motto: take it one day at a time and see how that goes."

When he heard it was terminal, David made a bucket list of the things he wanted to do. He skydived out of an Air Force Hercules at Whenuapai. He is going to bungy-jump. Last week he had a moko done on his back. Each part of the design represents someone: his mum, his step-dad Mark, his grandparents, his two stepbrothers. The cancer has made him closer to Mark, a painter-decorator. It's made him appreciate things he didn't appreciate before, "like eating. I haven't eaten for 2 1/2 years". He lifts his T-shirt to show the metal plug in his stomach where the tube goes in. Cancer has made him grow up faster than he should have, he thinks.

David's always been cheerful, says his mother. "Yeah, he's always been a pain in the butt. Nothing gets him down. I mean, every day I'm down, but David's David, everybody knows what David's like. He just gets on with life." The two younger boys, Samuel, 11, and Kain, nine, resented the time she spent with David when he first got sick. "They'd say, `Oh, you're always with David, everything's for David, you've never got time for us." The family spends the weekend watching rugby and league, fighting and cheering. David has taken to football as well: he supports Arsenal, Alma Manchester United. "And who just won?" she says, triumphantly.

Alma had to give up her job as a teacher's aide to care for David. And now it's hard to find another job. This is not a wealthy family. They have to take the bus to Te Omanga Hospice down in Lower Hutt. The Child Cancer Foundation gave them petrol vouchers to pay for the trip to Auckland for treatment. Canteen has been wonderful, too, she says. David loves the hospice: the gardens "I love flowers" and the art therapy with Mary. He has made two masks. Here are my beads of courage, he says. "You get a bead for each kind of treatment. The white ones are for chemotherapy. The dark ones are for radiation. I've got one for my birthday I had two birthdays in hospital. There's a brown one for hair loss. I can't remember what the rest are for. What are the blue ones for, mum? Isolation." "He's got more than 1800," says Alma.

David is a Christian. "I believe there's something after, something waiting for us." But when he was first diagnosed, "I kind of had my doubts about him, about God. I was thinking, where are you in my time of need?" He blamed himself for getting sick. He thought it was a punishment for all the bad things he'd done in the past.

Nowadays he doesn't feel sad for himself, but "I feel like I'm the one who's hurt my family and mum. That's why I feel like I have to stay strong for them."

He goes to Upper Hutt College "because it got boring at home". It gives him a routine and it's nice hooking up with his friends. Sometimes it's easier talking to them. At home it's more serious. With his mates "it's like lay back and chill, jokes and stuff". He doesn't have a girlfriend. One of his poems says: "There's this girl in my life I've grown to love. I want it to be more but I don't think she does." No, he says, laughing, it didn't come to anything.

This week is Hospice Awareness Week. More than 13,000 people received care and support from hospice in 2008, including 4800 admissions to in-patient facilities. More than 7000 people volunteered their time to work for Hospice NZ.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More cases of child cancer increase strain

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By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 04/05/2009

Five more children have been diagnosed with cancer at Wellington Hospital in the past week l- eaving more families to face an uncertain future with local treatment services under threat of closure.

The capital's two child-cancer specialists husband and wife Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao are set to leave in August after less than 10 months in the job, which means new and complex patients will again have to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment, splitting up their families for months at a time.

A national advisory group, which met last week to discuss whether to permanently downgrade Wellington Hospital to a secondary service, has yet to issue its recommendation. Wellington, one of only three tertiary (advanced) child-cancer services, serves the lower North Island.

Figures provided to The Dominion Post show 42 families had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch between December 2007 and October 2008 till the new specialists arrived.

Most made more than one trip. One teenager spent 11 months of one year in Auckland.

In an internal memo to staff, Capital and Coast chief executive Ken Whelan said the resignations of the two specialists "highlighted just how challenging it is to provide a comprehensive service such as paediatric oncology in a hospital the size of Wellington".

However, Wellington had more new diagnoses than Canterbury for the past two years. There are usually two or three inpatients at any one time, and about 30 outpatients each week.

Numbers of new patients at both units fluctuate between 20 and 35 each year, but most patients need treatment of two years or more and require continuing followup.

Up to five children relapse each year on average, and four or five children with terminal-stage cancer have palliative care.

Last year the Central Region Child Cancer Foundation supported 161 families through its support groups for client families and bereaved families, while its counterpart in the South Island had about 107 families under its care.

Capital and Coast's child-health manager, Kaye Hudson, acknowledged there were "many similarities between the scale of activity in Wellington and Christchurch. This is one of the questions we have brought to the attention of the paediatric oncology steering group and we await any guidance they can provide".

Canterbury has had two specialists for about 10 years, while Wellington has struggled to attract and retain clinical staff. Paediatric oncology steering group chairman Scott McFarlane, from Auckland's Starship children's hospital, has previously said Wellington's downgrade was probably inevitable and he did "not know of any informed paediatric oncologists who would now take that job".

Olivia Utting, of Newlands, whose five-year-old son Elijah has needed two long stays in Christchurch for leukaemia treatment, said she was sad Wellington's future was in the hands of people "who don't know our families, our hospital, who don't want it to work and don't think it should be here".

"Yet their decision is going to affect my son and my family."

Friday, May 1, 2009

New blow for child cancer patients

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By RUTH HILL - Wellington
Last updated 05:00 02/05/2009

Wellington's child cancer service looks set to be permanently downgraded when its two specialists leave in August again forcing families to leave town for treatment.

Parents accuse hospital management of failing to keep promises made to the two paediatric oncologists husband and wife Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao who resigned in March, less than six months after arriving from Germany.

A national advisory group, made up of clinicians and managers from the country's three child cancer centres and Health Ministry officials, met in Wellington this week to discuss the unit's future. The group is expected to recommend scrapping advanced child cancer services in the capital.

Wellington has been under threat of losing its "tertiary" service for more than a decade because of successive resignations.

Liz Hesketh, who quit in 2007, said inadequate resourcing was putting patients at risk. After her departure, patients had to be sent away for treatment for 10 months until the new specialists arrived.

Figures provided to The Dominion Post show 42 families travelled to Auckland or Christchurch between December 2007 and October 2008.

Parents say Capital and Coast District Health Board has failed to keep promises to staff, including a child cancer unit and hiring extra support staff and nurses.

Olivia Utting, whose son Elijah, 5, suffers an aggressive form of leukaemia, said the two doctors had been "treated appallingly" by Capital and Coast. They learned that plans to build a new unit in the old Grace Neill Building had been abandoned only through an email newsletter sent to all staff.

Ms Utting said she asked health board bosses at a meeting with parents this week if they were willing to "put their hands up" and commit to making the service continue. No one was.

"I told them, `I don't trust any of you, you haven't done any of the things you said you would do and I don't believe everyone here wants it to work."'

She had felt "a little bit of hope" going into the meeting. "But now I just feel deflated. Their decision is going to affect my son and my family."

Elijah faces another 17 months' treatment. He was back in the isolation room at Wellington Children's Hospital this week after his temperature rose to 38 degrees.

"Everything affects him we are back in hospital every second week. I have 100 per cent confidence in Mwe Mwe and Christian, who are amazing doctors, but I'm frightened of what will happen when they go."

Health Minister Tony Ryall said he would be guided by experts' opinion about the safest way to provide child cancer services in Wellington.

"What the children and parents need is certainty and a safe and sustainable service. I can't imagine the awful stress they have been under with all the uncertainty in the last couple of years."

Capital and Coast child health manager Kaye Hudson said she was unable to comment on the resignations for privacy reasons, but she disputed claims that the board had not acted to meet clinicians' concerns. It had recently appointed a second day-stay nurse, was "actively pursuing further improvements" to the designated child cancer area and had agreed to an extra day a week for pharmacy.

She said "the challenges we face" were not about money, but about staffing and retention.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Warning on prospects to replace oncologists

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By REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post
Last updated 08:52 08/04/2009

Related Links
Numbers 'too low' for child cancer unit Cancer service in doubt Child cancer doctors quit Parents dread outcome of doctors' departure

The head of a national advisory group doubts Wellington Hospital will be able to find replacement paediatric oncologists to keep its tertiary child cancer service running.

Paediatric oncology steering group chairman Scott McFarlane, of Auckland's Starship hospital, said if a candidate talked to other child cancer specialists, or researched the unit's history, they were unlikely to see it as a stable, long-term prospect.

"I don't know of any informed paediatric oncologists who would now take that job."

Wellington Hospital's two paediatric oncologists - husband and wife Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao - resigned last month, less than six months after arriving from Germany. They leave in August.

Their resignations followed the departures of previous child cancer specialists Liz Hesketh in 2007 and Anne Mitchell in 2008.

Before Drs Chao and Kratz arrived, the sickest child cancer patients had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for tertiary (complex and intensive) treatment.

Capital and Coast District Health Board said last week that the service's "on-again, off-again" history was not sustainable and it was looking for a long- term national solution.

Dr McFarlane said Wellington's tertiary services had been under threat for more than a decade.

The steering group, which would give advice to the Health Ministry about a long-term solution for Wellington, told Capital and Coast a year ago that the unit could not sustain any further crises, he said.

The situation was not Capital and Coast's fault. Increased specialisation among doctors internationally, combined with New Zealand's low population, meant specialist services became centralised in certain areas.

Tertiary child cancer units in Dunedin and Waikato hospitals had already closed.

The end of tertiary services at Wellington was "not a done deal but there seems to be an inevitability about it", he said.

Capital and Coast chief medical officer Geoffrey Robinson said the health board was using international agencies to find applicants to replace Drs Chao and Kratz.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Resignations put service in peril

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By SUSAN PEPPERELL - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 09:14 05/04/2009

Pressure is mounting on this country's child cancer services in the wake of the shock resignation of two specialists in the capital.

Doctors at Auckland and Christchurch say they will need extra resources to cope with the increased load they face if Wellington Hospital's child cancer service closes - which seems almost inevitable when the husband and wife team of paediatric oncologists, Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao, leave in August.

The couple, recruited from Germany only last October to reopen the service after their predecessors resigned, are moving to the US.

Ken Whelan, Capital and Coast District Health Board's chief executive, said the service had a chequered history and its future was now in doubt.

It is expected the remaining two tertiary child cancer units in Auckland and Christchurch will take over care of the Wellington region patients, who require highly specialised support services. There have been eight new patients in Wellington in the past six months. Starship sees more than 100 new patients annually, while Christchurch sees about 35.

Dr Lochie Teague, clinical director of paediatric haemotology and oncology at Auckland's Starship, said the last time the Wellington unit closed it caused additional stresses for everyone. "There is not much room for extra demand."

Child oncology also required a complex network of other medical specialties and taking on extra patients was a complicated equation.

"We will continue to offer services as best we can. If a child needs to be here we will always accommodate them," he said.

Dr Michael Sullivan of Christchurch Hospital's child cancer service said he and his colleagues were disappointed that the re- establishment of the Wellington service had failed and "more disappointed that it happened so soon".

Lucy needs isolation room

Click here for the original article.

Sunday Star Times
Last updated 09:14 05/04/2009

GARY RODGERS/Sunday Star-Times
STAYING PUT: Lucy Laws and her father, Michael, at their home in Wanganui.

Four-year-old Lucy Laws' condition has worsened. The daughter of Wanganui mayor Michael Laws has now been in isolation in Wanganui Hospital for more than two weeks, battling a virus.

Lucy, who was diagnosed with leukaemia a year ago, has no immunity and specialists have recommended she be transferred to Auckland's Starship hospital. However, Laws said he had been told Starship was so full that Lucy would be placed in a general ward in Auckland City Hospital, where she would be no better off than in Wanganui.

Lucy is running fevers every six hours. Her father said yesterday she had undergone platelet transfusions and faces further transfusions if her condition does not improve. Her chemotherapy, which involved three doses daily, has stopped to let her rebuild some immunity.

Her mother, Laws' partner Leonie Brookhammer, and six- month-old brother Theo are in her hospital room with her, but other family members can only view her only through a window.

On Friday Lucy's parents were told by a specialist paediatrician that her immunity had declined further and it was now urgent she be transferred to Starship where she can undergo more tests and stay in a pressurised isolation room.

However, none was available.

Laws said Starship specialists were talking to Lucy's doctors two or three times a day, which gave them a "certain confidence".

"The irony is that 20 years ago she would have died, but these days she, and children like her, have a shot at survival that is being compromised by a lack of facilities and shortage of beds, because there is no nationwide structure on the need for isolation rooms for kids."

Laws is on leave from the mayoralty, but said he planned to return to work tomorrow.

"It is very difficult, but like all families who have kids with cancer, you find ways of coping."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Parents dread outcome of doctors' departure

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By STACEY WOOD - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2009

Mothers of child cancer patients at Wellington Hospital dread the prospect of travelling to Christchurch or Auckland to get treatment for their children.

Palmerston North mother Nikki Christian already travels to Wellington with son Brayden, 7, once a week for chemotherapy treatments.

They have no friends or family in Christchurch and, while Mrs Christian's mother-in-law lives in Auckland, the inconvenience of travelling would be huge. "It raises so many questions.

"Where are we going to go? Do we have a choice? Do we drive or fly?"

Brayden has suffered from car-sickness since starting his chemotherapy and the added travel would cause him more discomfort.

Olivia Utting, whose son Elijah Utting-Parker, 4, has leukaemia, said she was "really scared" that the departure of the two paediatric oncologists would leave an unacceptable gap in expertise at the hospital. "These two doctors are incredibly qualified and the fact we got them here was so fortunate.

"[The DHB] said they've gone out of their way to keep them but I simply do not believe it."

Numbers 'too low' for child cancer unit

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By REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2009

Low patient numbers and a need for highly specialised support services put the future of Wellington Hospital's specialist child cancer services in doubt, its managers say.

Ken Whelan, Capital and Coast District Health Board's chief executive, said yesterday that the paediatric oncology service had only eight new patients in the past six months.

The service had a chequered history, he said. "We can't have the service off-again, on-again."

The hospital's two paediatric oncologists husband and wife Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao resigned last month, less than six months after arriving from Germany. They leave in August.

Their arrival in Wellington last October ended nine months of the most vulnerable child-cancer patients being sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment. Mr Whelan said the hospital would continue providing tertiary child-cancer services till August, but would work with the Health Ministry and other district health boards to find a long-term solution.

"The reality is that providing paediatric oncology services is a highly specialised area and there are a lot of work force issues, especially in an area where the patient volumes are very small."

Money was not the issue. The hospital had put an extra $1.4million into the service. Capital and Coast child health services clinical director Graeme Lear said seven children were in the initial stages of treatment and another 30 were receiving chemotherapy.

The paediatric oncologists had done a "fantastic job".

Providing a high-quality, tertiary level child-cancer service required specialised support. That included staff in pharmacy, nursing, pathology and radiology and a paediatric intensive care unit. There was only one such unit in New Zealand in Auckland.

"We [Wellington] are not going to have a paediatric ICU because we don't have enough volumes coming through."

Dr Lear said if Wellington offered a secondary but not tertiary service, it would mean children would go to other centres for the intensive start of chemotherapy, "which is what makes the kids really sick". Follow-up care would be provided in Wellington.

A third paediatric oncologist, from Chicago, is due to start work in Wellingtonnext month, initially as a locum. She has been appointed for a three-month period but the board could extend the contract.

Paediatric oncology steering group chairman Scott McFarlane, of Auckland's Starship children's hospital, said Waikato and Dunedin hospitals had already been through a similar transition, moving from tertiary to secondary child-cancer services.

Laws blasts child cancer care

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4:00AM Sunday Apr 05, 2009
By Jane Phare
Michael Laws with daughter Lucy, who has leukemia. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Michael Laws with daughter Lucy, who has leukemia. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Talkback host Michael Laws launched an angry and frustrated assault on health authorities last night over the care available for child cancer patients - including his daughter Lucy.

"The inadequacy of New Zealand's child cancer facilities has been pretty much brought home to me," said Laws, who is Wanganui Mayor and a member of the Whanganui District Health Board.

Laws said in the past week Lucy had deteriorated and needed a platelet transfusion. His daughter had no immunity and was at high risk of infection.

A range of options for Lucy's care had been canvassed with doctors but a room in Starship Hospital in Auckland was not considered an option because the hospital was too busy.

It came 18 days after Lucy went into isolation at Wanganui Hospital, and as child cancer services across the country face fresh pressure with the loss of two Wellington-based specialists. The pair - hired from Germany - quit six months after taking the job.

The resignations mean the centres for child cancer treatment might be again cut back to Auckland and Christchurch. It leaves families with long trips to those main centres or greater reliance on provincial hospitals where doctors use "tele-medicine" to communicate with specialists.

The Herald on Sunday has learned of some families with children needing regular care who have moved away from Wellington because of the inconsistent staffing and care.

Labour is calling for new Health Minister Tony Ryall to fix the problem.

Ryall acknowledged that the loss of the paediatric oncologists could be "upsetting" for families. He said a temporary paediatric oncologist had been hired and work was under way to fix the problem.

Laws highlighted the Wellington problem as placing greater pressure on the system, and said he had been told that ill children were unable to get into Starship Hospital's oncology wards.

He praised Wanganui hospital staff for their work. Not only had Lucy received excellent treatment there, but they had kept a room to the side of her room empty to help keep infection at bay, and turned away other child patients with infectious illness.

Dr Lochie Teague, clinical director of paediatric oncology at Starship, denied there was a waiting list for child cancer patients. He said if any child in a regional hospital got sick enough they would be transferred to Starship. "Space will always be made available."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Locum to hold together Wellington's child cancer service

Click here for original article.

1:53PM Friday Apr 03, 2009

Wellington, April 3 NZPA - Wellington's child cancer service will be held together by a locum specialist while the search begins for permanent oncologists to replace the husband and wife team who quit yesterday, only six months after starting work.

Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao arrived from Germany with their family last October to reopen the service which had been forced to close by the resignation of their predecessors.

For nine months, gravely ill patients were sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Dr Chao was not prepared to discuss why they were quitting, but said she and her husband were "really sorry it's not working out".

Capital and Coast District Health Board today issued a statement acknowledging the "positive work" the pair had achieved in their short time at Wellington Hospital, but gave no reasons for their departure.

Dr Chao and her husband, a world-leading researcher into the genetic origins of cancer, will leave for the United States in August.

A paediatric oncologist had already been employed and would start work in May, initially as a locum, said the DHB's clinical director of child health services Graeme Lear.

An international recruitment search was under way to find suitable specialists to fill the permanent positions.

"We are very conscious about the on-again, off-again nature of the service and believe the solution requires an integrated national service with close links to Auckland and Christchurch."

The service manages around 25 new referrals a year and provides highly complex treatments that in most countries were not usually available in public hospitals the size of Wellington's, Dr Lear said.

"We acknowledge that this news may be of considerable concern to our patients and their families and wish to reassure them and future patients in the lower North Island that we are doing everything to ensure continuing access to best practices in clinically appropriate timeframes."

Child Cancer Foundation central region chairman John Robson said Drs Chao and Kratz had provided excellent treatment and their resignations raised concerns about the DHB's ability to deliver on undertakings about the stability of Wellington's child cancer service.


Cancer appeal week is all about the kids

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By LUCY VICKERS - North Shore Times
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2009


BRAVE BATTLERS: From left: Bianca White, Zavier Coulam, Tui McLeod and Erfan Bour at the car signing event.

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Four brave children with one very important thing in common met at a Child Cancer event.

Zavier Coulam, 5, Bianca White, 5, Tui McLeod, 6, and Erfan Bour, 7, all have the illness and came together to sign a car which will be raffled off for the charity.

The children donned their colourful beads of courage – one for each procedure they’ve undergone.

Tui, from Birkenhead, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June 2007 after being paralysed down one side.

She has finished her treatment and doctors are hoping the tumour stays dormant. Tui has 191 beads.

Erfan, from Glenfield, and Zavier, from Dairy Flat, have leukaemia.

Erfan has more than 1100 beads and Zavier has 240 for treatments such as lumbar punctures and chemotherapy.

Bianca, from Albany, was also diagnosed with leukaemia – two weeks before her fourth birthday in 2007.

Her mum, Lea, 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 of those in isolation.

She has 960 beads.

More than 150 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. The Child Cancer Foundation provides support to children with cancer, their families and the health professionals who treat them.

They need volunteers for this week’s street appeal, phone 0800 4CHILD (0800-424-453), visit or email

Child cancer doctors quit

Read original article here:

By KERI WELHAM - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2009

CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
HARD TRAVELLING: Wellington cancer patient Stephen Uelese and his mother, Marika Broad, endured months of fortnightly trips to Christchurch for treatment before the two doctors arrived.

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Wellington Hospital's embattled child cancer ward has been plunged into chaos by the resignation of two paediatric oncologists only months after they arrived to save the service.

Husband-and-wife team Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao have quit because of "insurmountable" problems less than six months after they moved their family from Germany to Wellington.

Their arrival enabled Wellington Hospital to resurrect its troubled child cancer service in full, after nine months of being forced to send gravely ill patients to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Now, with the specialists' announcement that they leave for the United States in August, the future of the service is again uncertain. Parents of young cancer patients said they were devastated by the news.

Child Cancer Foundation central region chairman John Robson said: "Clearly there are some fundamental issues that have proved insurmountable to the new paediatric oncology team, which is a huge disappointment to us."

Mr Robson said the two specialists had provided excellent treatment. Their resignations raised concerns about Capital and Coast District Health Board's ability to deliver on undertakings about the stability of Wellington's child cancer service.

The board said it would comment today. Dr Chao said she was not prepared to discuss the couple's reasons for quitting, but said she and her husband were "really sorry it's not working out".

"It has been a pleasure caring for these wonderful families and these beautiful children," she said.

Dr Chao, an American, and the German Dr Kratz, a world-leading researcher into the genetic origins of cancer, were employed to replace Liz Hesketh, who resigned in July 2007, and Anne Mitchell, who quit in January 2008.

In the nine-month gap before their arrival, many patients from Wellington and surrounding regions had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment.

Marika Broad, of Wellington, had just 24 hours to pack and get her family on a plane to Auckland when her nine-year-old son, Stephen Uelese, was diagnosed with cancer in October 2007. They were in Auckland for six weeks, and then spent eight months travelling to Christchurch for fortnightly treatment.

"It was like going to hell and back," Miss Broad said yesterday. "Our children aren't getting looked after properly. They are getting shoved around the countryside when they have a life-threatening disease."

The board announced last year that it planned to recruit a third paediatric oncologist.


July 2007: Paediatric oncologist Liz Hesketh leaves for Australia. The unit closes to new patients because the hospital cannot guarantee clinical safety. Over the next 12 months, 45 children are sent to Auckland or Christchurch for treatment. Dr Hesketh later tells The Dominion Post she left because of "dwindling resources and a unit moving toward unsafe clinical practice".

January 2008: The sole remaining paediatric oncologist, Anne Mitchell, quits. Clinical support from Christchurch keeps the ward afloat.

October 2008: World-class paediatric oncology duo Christian Kratz and Mwe Mwe Chao move from Germany to run the service. The husband and wife team talk of wanting to raise their family in Wellington.This week: Dr Kratz and Dr Chao quit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Children's hospital stays put

Click here for original article.

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post
Last updated 10:33 24/02/2009

MAARTEN HOLL/The Dominion Post
FAMILY ROOM: Anna, 21, Joshua, 13, and mum Helen Wood at Wellington Children's Hospital. Joshua is would rather be further away from kids with contagious diseases 'because my immune system is not working so well'.

Plans to move Wellington Children's Hospital into an old tower block have been scrapped because patients would be worse off.

In a memo from clinical director Graeme Lear and child health managers, staff were told the proposal to shift to the 30-year-old Grace Neill Block was no longer considered workable because of "a serious and insoluble" lack of storage and cramped rooms, which meant parents would have been unable to stay with their sick children.

"We will not be able to provide a physical facility `significantly better than what we have now' which has always been the bottom line in any proposal to move from the current children's hospital."

The 11-storey Grace Neill Block, being vacated by women's health and maternity services this week, was targeted for demolition with the opening of the new regional hospital. But Capital and Coast District Health Board was forced back to the drawing board when it was revealed the new hospital would not be big enough.

Last April, interim chief executive Derek Milne announced plans to retain Grace Neill to house child health services, and convert the children's hospital into offices.

The latest plan involves moving child outpatients to Grace Neill to free up space in the existing children's hospital, and bringing forward plans to build a new facility within 10 years.

It depends, however, on "the availability of government funding, and this in turn depends on the ability of Capital and Coast to emerge from the financial troubles of the last few years".

The board faces a $70 million budget blowout this year.

The current children's hospital was built in 1988, but has struggled to accommodate services, including child cancer.

It is believed a lack of progress on creating a separate unit was one factor in the resignations of the hospital's previous two child cancer specialists, which meant the hospital was unable to accept new cancer patients for 15 months.

A board spokesman said the change of plans would not jeopardise redevelopment of child cancer services.

Paediatric oncology has had its own "designated area" within the children's hospital for a year and management was working with the two paediatric oncologists to improve its layout.

Negotiations are under way with a third specialist to join the team.

Thirteen-year-old Joshua Wood, who has leukaemia, said he was impressed with the food and the nurses at the hospital. "But one thing I don't like is being so close to other kids with contagious diseases that I can catch because my immune system is not working so well."