Jessica was, as her father, Trev, described her, a beach baby. Courtesy of her Coffs Harbour roots, she couldn’t get enough of the sun, sand, and surf. One sunny weekend around Jess’ sixth birthday, the family gathered together for a day by the water. Surprisingly, Jess wasn’t carelessly dancing with the waves but instead sat motionless, curled up in a towel on the sand too tired to move. The family knew something was wrong.
“We took Jess to the doctor and before I knew it we were in an air ambulance on our way to the Royal Hospital in Sydney. No one would tell me what was wrong but I knew it was more than a virus when I kept getting hugs, first from the ambos and then the nurses...” Trev.
When a professor eventually pulled him into a room and gave him the news that his daughter had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), Trev can remember the exact feeling that surged throughout his numb body. It’s an emotion that still haunts him today.
“The best way I can describe the feeling of being told about Jess’ condition is that I was being faced with a tiger. It was about to pounce and just before it reached me, mouth open, someone had pressed pause. It’s so close to me I can smell its breath. That feeling is yet to leave me.” Trev.
Trev’s ‘Dad instincts’ kicked in, all he could think was, 'how do I fix this?' He stuck by his little girl’s side during what would be a year-long stint in hospital. Over the twelve months, Jess underwent numerous invasive surgeries and intense chemotherapy and radiation.
After her incredibly lengthy stay in hospital, the doctor finally gave the all clear for Jessica and her family to be home on weekend back in Coffs to try and gain a little normalcy for Jess and her siblings. It was a hard and long road but after nearly two years, Jess was able to return to school.
Trev recalls, “at times, school became really testing for Jess. She had developed a learning difficulty because of her treatment and Type 1 Diabetes, which she still lives with today."
“She did not see the world like other kids. She appreciated things more and did not want to do the normal things they wanted to do. Its almost like she became an old soul in a tiny little fragile body.” Trev.
It was during this time that the Jess' family first learned about Camp Quality. After Jess’ first time at Middle Camp, she was hooked and immediately started counting down until the next one.
“She would put a calendar on the wall for all the family to see with a big countdown list and everyday remind the family how many more sleeps!” Trev.
When we asked Jess what Camp Quality means to her she replied with:
“It fills the gap no doctors, friends of family can fill. It’s like the glue that keep you together.”
To celebrate her 18th birthday, Jess planned to spend it with her closest friends, the people she met through Camp Quality.
“Honestly, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, it’s like nothing has ever changed. They get me! I wear my Camp Quality T-shirt to bed every night too; it just reminds me of how precious life is and that you should live every day in the moment. It reminds me of being happy during a really testing time.” Jess.
Recently finishing Year 12 as School Captain, and being accepted into Southern Cross University to study Podiatric Nursing prior to her HSC results being finalised, she has defied all odds, defying death over and again, overcoming her learning difficulties and managing Type 1 Diabetes. She is a true example of lthe power of resilience, and living optimistically.
Read Jess's story in Girlfriend Magazine here.