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'I expected to get a rash cream from the GP. By that evening, my son was rushed to hospital'

By The Kids' Cancer Project |

When a doctor first told Tanya McAleer her three-year-old son had cancer, she remembers almost fainting.

"I was in complete shock. I really had no clue," Tanya tells the Kid's Cancer Project.

"That morning, I expected to get a rash cream from the GP. And by the evening, my son was diagnosed with leukaemia and rushed to Sydney Children's Hospital in an ambulance."

Rather than blacking out, Tanya focused with intent on every word the doctor said.

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son rash leukaemia
Tanya McAleer with her son Bradley. (Kid's Cancer Project)

"I really didn't know what the initial diagnosis meant for Bradley, so I wanted to try my best to fully understand what was going on," she says.

"I fondly remember the doctor's kindness and the hope and positivity she gave us that night."

The family, including dad Peter, would need as much hope and positivity as they could get to fuel their motivation through the experience that was to come.

With a diagnosis of Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, the first week alone was "a whirlwind" of tests and doctors.

"At the diagnosis stage, they were so calm, informative and optimistic. This really helped us to be the calm, logistical and positive parents that we needed to be for Bradley," Tanya says.

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Bradley luekaemia kid's cancer project
"I really didn't know what the initial diagnosis meant for Bradley." (Kid's Cancer Project)

"Dr. David Ziegler and the team at Sydney Children's Hospital are exceptional and were especially amazing that first week."

Bradley's first six months of treatment involved aggressive therapy that meant he and one parent spent most of their time in hospital.

A one-parent rule at the hospital, a result of COVID, meant Tanya and Peter rarely had a chance to connect during that intense phase which was incredibly hard on them both.

"Anxiety, worry and sleepless nights come hand-in-hand with a cancer diagnosis. It's unavoidable."?

It also meant Bradley saw little of his baby brother Charlie, who was seven months old at the time.

Treatment has included intravenous drugs, other injections and oral chemotherapy.

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Bradley luekaemia kid's cancer project
The little boy was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. (Kid's Cancer Project)

"Bradley has also had to undergo numerous procedures including X-rays, lumbar punctures and bone marrow aspirates, too many to count," Tanya says.

Several courses of steroids were part of the treatment as well.

"This was one of many low points in treatment because of all the side effects," Tanya says.

"And we weren't alone in this thinking. All of the parents we met in Bradley's ward disliked the steroid phase too."

Side effects, including mood swings, hunger, muscle weakness, hair loss and rapid weight changes, were difficult for Bradley and his family.

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Bradley luekaemia kid's cancer project
Due to COVID regulations only one parent was able to be by Bradley's side during treatment. (Kid's Cancer Project)

"How do you explain to a three-year old that the medicine that makes them feel so sick is actually saving their life?"

"I would love to say the experience has made me a more positive, resilient person. To some extent there is some truth in that," Tanya says.

"However, realistically, the whole experience has been truly devastating and exhausting for the whole family. Not only has it been hard on us parents, but it's been very difficult for Bradley's grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends too.

"Anxiety, worry and sleepless nights come hand-in-hand with a cancer diagnosis. It's unavoidable."

"Cooperation with ongoing medication and procedures is a lot to ask of a young child, and Bradley has been such a trooper for getting on with it all. He's been so incredibly brave," Tanya continues.

Bradley luekaemia kid's cancer project
'The whole experience has been truly devastating and exhausting for the whole family.' (Kid's Cancer Project)

"His ability to be present and find joy in life, mostly in dinosaurs, is something to admire and be inspired by. I just wish he, and other children, didn't have to go through this."

Having spent nearly two years in the cancer treatment process, Tanya clearly sees how important science is in creating gentler therapies.

"Bradley has been such a trooper ... I just wish he, and other children, didn't have to go through this."?

"We need to support scientific research so we can find kinder and more effective treatments to improve the quality of life of childhood cancer patients, both during and after treatment," she says.

"We need to eradicate the severe, harmful side effects of cancer treatments today."

Tanya goes on to highlight that 90 per cent of survivors will develop one or more chronic health conditions as a result of treatment.

Bradley luekaemia kid's cancer project
'I just wish he, and other children, didn't have to go through this.' (Kid's Cancer Project)

"We need to do better for our children."

"You can personally help support scientific research by fundraising for The Kids' Cancer Project or by donating. Money raised will be given to many research projects that look into just this," she says.

"One current project looking for funding is run by Professor Irina Vetter. She's looking into reducing long-term side-effects of chemotherapy in cancer survivors.

"Every donation helps, no matter how small. A small donation of $54 funds a researcher for one hour to help find a cure. How incredible is that? You really can make a difference."

Bradley was diagnosed in December 2020, and is due to complete treatment around March 2023, so is still very much on the medical journey. He will be declared cancer-free five years after treatment completes.

Find out how you can help by visiting the Kid's Cancer Project website.

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