Isla was just 3 when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) last year. Isla’s parents, Pam and Gareth, say the nightmare started with a bump on their daughter’s head.
“I first noticed it when I was brushing her hair,” Pam says. It was growing bigger over time and, in-between visits to the doctor, we spent a lot of nights searching Dr Google.
Pam and Gareth were frustrated with the lack of answers, so they took her to hospital for a blood test. Within hours, they were given the diagnosis every parent dreads.
“Your child has cancer.”
“I know 2021 was tough for everyone, but it really took a toll on our family,” Gareth says. “Navigating a pandemic, coming out of a major lockdown and, all of a sudden, we got slapped with Isla’s leukaemia diagnosis.”
Isla underwent gruelling treatment. Endless rounds of chemo and painful, life-saving medical procedures. Long stints in hospital and midnight dashes into the emergency department whenever things took a turn for the worse.
Today, Isla is past the most intense part of her treatment; now she only goes into hospital once a month to get the port in her chest flushed, and once every three months to have chemotherapy and a bone marrow biopsy.
As soon as Isla was well enough to return to preschool, Pam and Gareth reached out to us to arrange a visit from the Camp Quality Puppets.
The iconic puppets are part of Camp Quality’s Cancer Education Program. They enable schools to create supportive communities with a fun and interactive show that helps to dispel common myths about cancer, and teach students how they can be understanding and supportive of children impacted by cancer: whether they are dealing with their own diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a sibling, mum, dad or carer.
“Isla’s been such a trooper throughout her treatment, she’s just very matter-of-fact. I heard a kid say to her, ‘why don’t you have any hair?’ and she just looked at them and said, ‘because I’ve got leukaemia.’ For her it’s just, ‘of course I don’t have any hair!’” Pam explains. “But I was concerned about what the kids would say and not understand, and possibly not be able to ask.”
Isla wasn’t the only one who needed our support. Pam and Gareth were also growing increasingly worried about how Connor was coping.
“Connor was really struggling to understand what was happening and why Mum and Dad were so often at hospital looking after Isla.” Pam explains. “He’ll say, ‘why does everyone ask after Isla all the time?’ and, ‘it’s not fair, why does Isla get so many presents?’ We try to explain that it’s because of her leukaemia. She goes through a lot from week to week, and he doesn’t see any of that – he just sees that she’s getting a lot of attention.”
They also realised that, despite all of the wonderful support, a lot of the parents in their community weren’t comfortable talking to their young children about cancer.
So Pam and Gareth reached out to us again, this time to arrange for the Camp Quality Puppets to visit Connor’s school, to answer some of the difficult questions Connor and his classmates had about cancer, and make sure he was getting the support and understanding he needed too.