WAR­RIOR WOMEN

& THE CHIL­DREN THEY PRO­TECT

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE - JANE HANSEN https://www.red­kite.org.au/do­nate-now

A WARM cud­dle af­ter a fall, small aches and pains kissed bet­ter and Band-Aids gen­tly placed on skinned knees. Th­ese are the nur­tur­ing touches of a lov­ing mother.

But then there is an­other breed: the war­rior mother, the mother of a se­ri­ously ill child. A child with can­cer. She sti­fles her sobs in the shower, silently screams in the toi­let, lets her fury out swear­ing and curs­ing at the in­jus­tice, but only alone in the car so no-one hears.

Then she pulls her­self to­gether, hid­ing her own fears so she can be the rock for her child fac­ing the hor­rors of surgery, chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion treat­ment. If can­cer was a dragon, she’d slay it with her bare hands.

She is a mother like Lee­sha Mon­son, 41, from Narem­burn in Syd­ney’s lower north shore, who shaved her own head when her eight-year-old daugh­ter Vi­o­let started to lose her hair from the chemo­ther­apy. It was the least she could do.

Vi­o­let was a rain­bow baby, born af­ter the still­birth of Leroy in 2007. She was also a mir­a­cle baby. A high­risk ges­ta­tion forced Lee­sha to bed for much of the preg­nancy. Vi­o­let was di­ag­nosed with a form of nonHodgkin’s lym­phoma in April last year. “That first night (af­ter diag- no­sis) I didn’t tell her any­thing and all that was go­ing on in my head was that she was go­ing to die and hav­ing a full panic at­tack and then hav­ing g to hide that,” said Lee­sha, who also has a 15- year-old daugh­ter, Mia. “She had d surgery and it was s hor­rific, her re­cov­ery overy was ter­ri­ble and d I was try­ing so hard to be strong and I just thought, this is not about me.”

So Lee­sha ha steeled her­self lf for get­ting Vio- let through two rounds of drain­ing chemo­ther­apy. “On Mother’s Day last year, I just cried all morn­ing, I was just ter­ri­fied,” she said. “How do I let this kid know it’s go­ing to be a night­mare an and I have to put you through it and tellt you it’s got to be done, you just ha have to do it? “I think we just go in­toin war­rior mode as mums. Wh When half her hair was on the pil­low she want­ed­wante it off, so the next d day we both shaved ourou heads. I

didn’t thinkth about it at all. Peo­ple would say you’re brave and I’d say this is the least of my wor­ries, I just didn’t think about it at all.”

For mothers of chil­dren who have can­cer, Mother’s Day is an es­pe­cially emo­tional day, when they feel the bonds with their chil­dren with intense grat­i­tude.

For Marion Cor­bett from Dun­das in Syd­ney’s north, Mother’s Day will be a re­prieve from the weekly ra­di­a­tion treat­ment her five-year-old son Fred is cur­rently en­dur­ing for a brain tu­mour. At age three-and-a-half, Fred was di­ag­nosed with a medul­loblas­toma brain tu­mour. Af­ter seven hours of surgery, he un­der­went six months of chemo­ther­apy.

That was sup­posed to be it, but the tu­mour re­turned in Jan­uary. Now ra­di­a­tion treat­ment is re­quired ev­ery sec­ond day dur­ing the week for six weeks. Fred needs gen­eral anaes­thetic each time, with mum by his side.

“He has to have a gen­eral anaes­thetic be­cause he has to be per­fectly still for 20 min­utes and he finds the process distress­ing, so I have to hold him in what I call the mummy strait­jacket be­cause he is dis­tressed and hys­ter­i­cal,” Marion, 42, said. When he is un­der, she falls apart. “It breaks you, you have to step away and have a mo­ment and pull your­self to­gether,” she said.

“I thought when he was first di­ag­nosed that this will be the hard­est marathon to run or moun­tain to climb, but you just have to put one foot in front of the other.”

There is a con­tin­ued well of grief, as she and her hus­band con­sider the ef­fects this ra­di­a­tion will have on Fred’s de­vel­op­ing brain.

“All those hopes and dream you had for your child, all that po­ten­tial we hoped for has had to be read­justed to the point of we will still have him with us,” she said.

Be­hind the scenes, both mothers have re­lied on Red­kite, a char­ity that sup­ports chil­dren and young adults with can­cer and their fam­i­lies by pro­vid­ing emo­tional, fi­nan­cial and ed­u­ca­tional help for the tough­est times.

Can­cer in chil­dren cuts a swath through fam­i­lies. There are around 1250 chil­dren and young peo­ple di­ag­nosed with can­cer ev­ery year and around 5000 fam­i­lies are af­fected by a child­hood or ado­les­cent can­cer di­ag­no­sis. A di­ag­no­sis in­vari­ably means one par­ent can’t work.

Red­kite es­ti­mates the cost for a fam­ily with a child di­ag­nosed with can­cer is around $50,000 in “out-of­pocket” costs each year. For Lee­sha Mon­son, Red­kite was the dif­fer­ence be­tween mak­ing ends meet.

“They gave us Coles food vouch­ers and petrol vouch­ers which made such a dif­fer­ence when you are pay­ing $28 a day in park­ing. Red­kite paid for a gui­tar teacher to come to our house to give Vi­o­let lessons,” she said.

For Marion Cor­bett, emerg­ing from 100 days in hospi­tal af­ter Fred’s first round of treat­ment and feel­ing adrift, Red­kite was an an­chor.

“I was at a loss how to live and what to do with my­self,” she said.

“I wasn’t work­ing and I reached out to Red­kite and they helped us with the cost of day care and preschool which was a huge weight off my shoul­ders while I was look­ing to get work.

“I never re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated what Red­kite did be­fore.

“Two days af­ter start­ing a job we found out the tu­mour was back and that was dev­as­tat­ing.”

Mar­ion Cor­bett with her five-year-old son Fred, who’s fight­ing a brain tu­mour.

Vi­o­let and Lee­sha af­ter they shaved their hair.

Lee­sha Mon­son and her daugh­ters Vi­o­let, 8, and Mia 15. Main pic­tures: Tim Hunter

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