By RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post
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 Dompost.co.nz 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 dompost.co.nz/bianca