The Dalcos lost seven-year-old Zach to cancer in 2016. It didn’t make sense then and the family are still coming to grips with his passing today. Greer Dalco tells their story.
Our son Zach had brain cancer.
Zachy was five when he was diagnosed with stage IV medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in kids.
We were in and out of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals in Darwin for close to three months. Zachy had all the red flags; blurred vision, vomiting, he was off balance, wasn’t eating, and it all came on very suddenly. They kept telling us it was gastro. If only I knew the red flags back then, maybe I could have helped him or advocated for him more.
The thing is, even if we did receive the diagnosis on day one, it wouldn’t have changed anything - medulloblastoma is a fast-growing, high-grade brain tumour and spreads seeds throughout the brain almost immediately.
Zach’s diagnosis literally uprooted everything. We were settled in Darwin and four hours after he was diagnosed they had to put us on a plane to Sydney for treatment. My daughter Charli was three years old and Bailey (our baby) was just four weeks.
Little Bailey spent the first eight months of her life in a cot next to her brother in The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. That’s where I spent my weekdays. On the weekends my husband Winton and I would swap – he’d stay at the hospital and I’d go to our temporary home to spend time with Charli and get Bailey out of that hospital.
Although she’s only young, Charli understands that she shouldn’t have lost her brother to brain cancer. Charli can’t understand why there isn’t a cure, why we can’t fix it and how it is possible that she is now older than he ever was.
Charli started fundraising after we lost Zach. She was only six.
When I ask Charli why she is selling gold ribbons and organising superhero days at school, she tells me, ‘because we need to get awareness out there mum, so this will never happen to any other families like it happened to ours’.
Even a child can understand that scientific research is so important for childhood cancer but that it all comes down to funding.
The chemotherapy protocol that Zach had was already years and years old, and that protocol was one of the newer options! As I understand it, there are still no new drugs for medulloblastoma. This makes no sense to me because it’s the most common type of kids’ brain cancer. Surely, more funding should be focused on this particular brain cancer if it takes so many of our kids every year.
The money just isn’t there for kids’ cancer research. Charities tend to focus on adult cancers, not children’s cancer. Adults very rarely get medulloblastoma – it’s primarily a kids’ cancer. It’s frustrating because that’s where the funding should go. Why don’t kids come first? I just do not get it.
How do you pick up and carry on after a child dies? You don’t. You go into auto pilot mode. The thing is we have two little girls and we have to go on and do the right thing by them. Our family has been floored and will never, ever be the same again, but a brave face for our girls is so important, as well as keeping our little man in the girl’s lives by telling them stories about him and reminding them they had an amazing superhero for a brother.
Brisbane is home for us now. A week after Zach passed we moved here. We didn’t want to stay in Sydney. We just couldn’t be near that place anymore or in the house where he was so sick and eventually passed.
At the end of the day, our family will never be the way it was supposed to be. It is so sad that childhood cancer has, in essence, defined our lives.
I would love for there to be a day when a child with brain cancer could be cured by surgery and a tablet. No horrible chemotherapy that makes these kids so sick and affects parents and siblings so much. Surgery and a tablet, then be good to go - no relapse, just a cure. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what Zach and our family have endured.
The fight isn’t over. It’s time to focus on kids’ cancers.