'Huge disruption' follows cancer diagnosis

Rebecca Michelle and son Xavier (2), wearing his 'Beads of Courage', relax at home in Mosgiel....
Rebecca Michelle and son Xavier (2), wearing his 'Beads of Courage', relax at home in Mosgiel. Photo by Brenda Harwood

The Michelle family, of Mosgiel, have been through some tough times in the past 18 months, as young Xavier has undergone treatment for cancer.

The brave youngster, who turns 3 next month, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in March, 2012. This week, he proudly showed The Star his multiple strings of ''Beads of Courage'', each of which denotes a medical procedure, an experience, or a milestone.

The first year after Xavier's diagnosis was ''full-on'', especially at the beginning, his mother, Rebecca Michelle, said.

''We were called into the hospital at 6pm on a Monday night, after a blood test, and Xavier and I were out on the first flight in the morning to Christchurch,'' Mrs Michelle said.

Xavier's father Gareth and older brother Oliver (4) travelled up by car for what turned out to be a seven-week ordeal.

''It was a huge disruption to our lives and there was a lot of intense stuff in the first weeks,'' Mrs Michelle said.

''That first year was full-on but things have tapered off a bit now,'' she said.

Back in Dunedin, Xavier has monthly chemotherapy at Dunedin Hospital, a three-monthly spinal tap and daily oral chemotherapy. The treatment is set to continue until May 2015.

''It's constant, and it is a long journey but he's doing really well,'' she said.

The support of the Child Cancer Foundation had been great throughout the family's journey, she said.

''They understand what you are going through and they are there if you need to ask questions.''



Providing comfort and courage

Practical as well as emotional support have been the cornerstones of the Child Cancer Foundation's work with families in Otago and Southland for the past 25 years.

Last Saturday night, foundation members gathered in Dunedin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the foundation, and to honour the work of its founder, the late Professor David Holdaway.

''It was amazing on Saturday night to see families who were involved 25 years ago, still there supporting other families in the region,'' Child Cancer Foundation Otago-Southland regional co-ordinator and family support co-ordinator Christine Donovan said.

The Child Cancer Foundation's focus was ''very much around support by families for families'', Ms Donovan said.

Working in partnership with health professionals, the organisation had been able to help about 200 families across the region during the past 25 years, she said.

This included providing practical support such as petrol and grocery vouchers, educational support, and help with travel - as all families had to go to Christchurch for at least part of the treatment. Emotional support was provided one-on-one and when families came together at social events, Ms Donovan said.

The foundation also provided the ''Beads of Courage'' programme, which rewarded children undergoing treatment with colourful beads, along with the ''Sibling Beads'' programme.

The Child Cancer Foundation nationally is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.



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