& THE CHILDREN THEY PROTECT
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