Don’t tell anybody, but on the last day of her daughter Lara’s two-and-a-half year treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), Tanya Allan along with relatives and friends smuggled Champagne into the hospital in coffee cups!
Lara receives a hug from her Auntie Keely after ringing the bell to signify the end of her cancer treatment. Keely's 'tattoo' says "she believed she could so she did".
The ringing of the treatment bell on 1 July 2019 was a very meaningful moment as eight-year-old Lara, who had been on an intense and physically taxing journey since she was diagnosed at the age of six, finally felt she could close that chapter and move on.
“We celebrated in every way we could think of,” Tanya, who runs a swim school and a physiotherapy practice with husband David, said.
“We’re really lucky to have had such a strong community. We had an army behind us! So on that last day Dave and I, and our son Ruari, had that army come in to the hospital and celebrate with us.”
“Lara rang the bell and we had a little dance party, and it was just amazing. We’re also having a Laserforce party and the biggest Christmas in July you’ve ever seen.”
These are the good times, and they stand in stark contrast to the bad. During her daughter’s treatment, Tanya said, she often found herself deeply grieving Lara’s loss of her physical self.
"We’ve lived with such optimism it’s been hard to tell the bleakest part of our story but this photo tells of Lara’s fight and it stands in such stark contrast to the girl that she is," said Tanya.
“Children being treated for leukaemia have these massive steroid pulses and, as a result, Lara put on an extraordinary amount of weight,” she said. “The chemo made Lara very sick and that really hurt me. My heart got very sore.”
“The toughest time for us was about seven months into treatment when Lara suffered chemo toxicity, and that was a long hospital stay. She had ulcers from the outside of her lips, right down her digestive tract and into her stomach. She was on morphine and didn’t eat for two weeks. She lost an alarming amount of weight and wasn’t responsive. It was the first time she’d completely disengaged. It was also the first time that I feared for her life.”
Long term and serious side effects from treatment can present at any time in the life of a person who has been treated with chemotherapy. So the less treatment a child needs, the less chance they have of suffering future medical problems. This is where science comes in. And that’s why Tanya is passionate about the work of The Kids’ Cancer Project.
“We’re seeing the science change in front of our eyes and it’s amazing,” she said.
Research is helping oncologists make improvements to treatment protocols such as duration and dosage required.
The other difference that research makes is increasing the families’ understanding of a disease, and this is far more powerful than most people realise, Tanya said. If you have a particular disease, or if someone in your family is diagnosed, then a strong understanding of the disease itself, and its effects on the body, can help during treatment.
Three survivors of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia L-R: Ollie, Lara and Holly.
“A young lady we know, Rachel  who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma [a blood cancer], has a great quote,” Tanya said. “She said, ‘Bravery is looking cancer right in the face and saying, ‘I know how you work.’ She was absolutely correct.”
“I love The Kids’ Cancer Project for a lot of reasons, but mainly because they want to eradicate kids’ cancer. That’s basically what it comes down to. It’s why I want to be involved with them. I think that’s a very gutsy goal and a very brave one. I also love that a lot of the projects that The Kids’ Cancer Project support are run by the oncologists who treat our children.”