Molly Patricia Ross
When she was 12, Molly was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma ( RABdoh- MY- oh-sar- KOH- muh) one of the seemingly endless rare forms of cancer that affect New Zealand children.
The grade of her cancer meant it was incurable, but treatable in the short term. This devastating news was followed by a whirlwind month in Auckland Hospital trying to get her bloods sorted and starting chemo.
At home in Pahiatua a few days later, Molly suddenly lost all mobility due to a severe reaction to a common chemotherapy drug. She couldn’t move, eat, speak or swallow. At the same time as this was happening, she contracted pneumonia. The paediatric team in Palmerston North didn’t really know Molly at that stage, so they assumed the worst. But Molly was a fighter, and survive she did.
However, because of her lack of mobility she needed a lot of nursing care, requiring three people to turn her, more to get her out of bed, and someone to be with her constantly as she couldn’t press the bell to summon help.
In February 2015, at the age of 13, Molly got one of her greatest wishes – she started college. The bus picked her up and she started her first day just like anyone else. She was walking with crutches with splints and she was climbing on that bus – no matter what.
Canteen camp time
It was just after this that we really became involved with CanTeen. We had been away from home so much that we had never really had the chance to get involved with the local services on offer.
It was CanTeen camp time and Molly was really keen to go. I was very nervous. She didn’t know anyone, she didn’t know where she was going or what she was going to do, and really, she was a very sick girl, but she didn’t care. It was an event to be lived!
It was almost like I experienced an epiphany when we walked into the rooms at CanTeen. Lots of members were there and they just welcomed Molly like they’d known her forever. I was planning to wait to wave them off, but Molly was just encircled in this cloud of love and empathy so I knew I wasn’t needed. It really brought home to me the importance of CanTeen.
The other services do an excellent job and make life easier during the most hideous of times, but as children start their teenage years their needs change and they want to do different things, and need to be with people their own age.
Molly was always a very wise person, very mature and responsible. She was so ready for the new experiences that CanTeen had to offer. Her weekend away with CanTeen was such a highlight to her. As usual, she gave everything a go and shared experiences with some fabulous people her own age.
Unfortunately the trip to Auckland the day after she got back from camp was to be our last. Her scan showed numerous
tumours and there were no more tricks left in the bag. We could have continued with chemo as it seemed to slow things a lit tle, but Molly hated it so much she just wanted to come home.
Molly’s health deteriorated quite quickly after that. But our times with CanTeen were just beginning. Our wonderful Palmerston North Youth Worker, Karen, was up for any challenges I threw at her. She was there to help make whatever time Molly had left as enjoyable as possible. It was all about making memories with Molly, memories for the rest of us to hold on to after she’d gone.
Room ‘make over’
CanTeen had a few weeks of amazingness lined up for the last few months of Molly’s life, but unfortunately our timing wasn’t great and all these plans had to change when Molly became too sick. But that didn’t stop CanTeen. They rethought the plans and started again.
We were in hospital for ten days so Karen arranged a room ‘make over’ – CanTeen style. A group of CanTeeners descended on her room and created an incredible room for Molly, then left us to it. They knew what it was like to be in hospital, so they didn’t make it a drama, they just came to help make the space as cool as a hospital room could be and to show Molly their support.
That meant so much to Molly, and to us. I thought our worst luck had struck again. Molly was having seizures and lost mobility on one side of her body. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. But in t ypical Molly style, she overcame this setback and recovered enough to come home.
The one thing I knew would really make Molly smile was a flash mob – when a group of people appear in one public location unexpectedly and put on some kind of rehearsed performance. It was something she’d always loved the idea of being involved in and we knew that Karen was the person to make it work. She had all these great ideas, community contacts and energy to get it organised and make is so special for Molly.
Initially we had to postpone the flash mob because of Molly’s health, but then on May 03 we decided we’d do it anyway. I think it was great medicine for all our friends. They were able to contribute to something positive for Molly and come together as a family and a community. It’s a lifelong memory we all cherish, thanks to CanTeen.
Two days later, on 5 May 2015, Molly passed away at home, in a room filled with love. Typical Molly style, she did this with minimal fuss, waiting until exactly the right moment, when the people she loved and who love her were with her. Life is never going to be the same. It’s still pretty horrible, and I can feel pretty bitter when I let myself.
But this is our story, and I’m sure that every CanTeen member has one. CanTeen is the place for young people affected by cancer to come together and support each other. No one on the outside can really understand, so to be in a place where everyone gets what you’re feeling is a real blessing.
Tracy Lett ( Molly’s Mum)
…which was good practice for the deeper Oroua River later on.
Mangoira Stream river bed driving.
Once out of the river valley the route went up…!
Mangoira Stream offered first taste of river bed driving….