Millie and her life-saving sisters

When a cancer battle meant young Millie was down and almost out, her brave sisters stepped in to bring her back from the brink.
When a cancer battle meant young Millie was down and almost out, her brave sisters stepped in to bring her back from the brink.

When a cancer battle meant young Millie was down and almost out, her brave sisters stepped in to bring her back from the brink.

During the final days of school in 2018, seven-year-old Millie began complaining of a sore shoulder.

That wasn’t unexpected. She loved nothing more than bouncing for hours on a trampoline, so the assumption was that she’d injured herself and needed ice and rest.

Over the following week she developed flu-like symptoms. Doctors at the hospital in Casino, on the NSW north coast, said it was a virus. But by Boxing Day Millie was in excruciating pain.

Her heart was bouncing out of her chest. You could actually see her heart beating. At hospital, one of the doctors gave her a chest X-ray and found her left lung was completely full of fluid.

- Kevin

After further tests, having been sent to Gold Coast University Hospital, doctors discovered a tumour behind Millie’s heart. That night, having been moved again to the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, a course of chemotherapy began. Kevin says:

It’s one of those things no parent ever wants to hear, and it really does leave you in shock...Breaking the news to Millie’s older sisters, Olivia and Georgia, was traumatic.

But Olivia and Georgia would react like superheroes, offering Millie a life-saving option when it seemed all was lost.

A long kids’ cancer treatment journey

After the harrowing first week, spent in intensive care with chest drains and chemo lines, Millie headed into a long period of treatment.

After the first few weeks she could no longer walk and had to be wheeled around in a large pram. The treatment had caused the tendons and muscles in her legs to spasm.

The first, two-month round of chemotherapy didn’t have the desired outcome, so another phase began. That second round worked wonders, with the tumour almost disappearing. But it soon began growing back, aggressively.

That’s when the oncologist gave us options, and one was to bring Millie home and make her comfortable.

- Kevin

The doctor was suggesting that one option was to let Millie die. Kevin continues:

Obviously, that was quite traumatic...The whole way along you’re telling yourself it’s going to be okay, then you realise it’s really not okay.

We were quite lucky that Millie got Dr Chris Fraser, who recommended what he thought was the best option. It was a mix of three chemo drugs, including one that has been in a lot of new trials.

After the treatment, we had to wait a month to see if it had worked, and that was agonising. But it did work and it led to Millie being cancer free.

But there was one more hurdle to clear, and it was a big one.

The oncologist had always suggested that Millie would probably need a bone marrow transplant...Our two other daughters volunteered to be screened and they were both a positive match, which is quite unusual and very lucky.

I was so proud to see both Georgia and Olivia step up. Olivia was eventually chosen because she was the best match. The transplant happened in June, 2019. It was at the next PET scan that we were told Millie was cancer free.

Supporting kids’ cancer research

Kevin, who has a science degree, coped with the pressure of what was going on by doing his own research into various clinical trials that were taking place around the world.

I read all about this lady who developed the chemo drug that saved Millie...It made me realise that research funding is the important bit. If we don’t have these people developing these drugs, Millie, who’s now 11, would be dead.

Kevin, mum Erica and their three girls have since been busily fundraising to do all they can to enable further research.

We first spent a fair amount of effort gathering information about The Kids’ Cancer Project, so we could show people exactly where the money goes,

Researchers get the money. That’s where it goes. That’s where the money Millie is raising goes, to pay for these trials.

Millie’s grandparents sold a cow and donated the funds to The Kids’ Cancer Project. Millie organised a gold disco at her school as a fundraiser, and has also sold yellow-ribbon cookies. She sought donations through a Facebook page, which is heavily supported by Rabbitohs players and supporters, and raised over $10,000 in one year.

Read more: Even cows can raise money for kids’ cancer research.

The girls and their Nan have now branched into craft and jewellery making, selling handmade earrings, Barbie outfits, tote bags made from old cattle stock-feed bags and more. They have organised raffles, with winners receiving such prizes as a Sony PlayStation.

The family has supplied donation tins to businesses around where they live. Millie has also created rainbow artworks to print onto t-shirts – each colour in the rainbow represents a different type of childhood cancer. She was recently asked to add her design to a major artwork in Sydney, a whale tail sculpture outside the Sydney International Convention Centre. Kevin says:

I keep telling people that it’s about continuing to ensure research is funded, because it’ll be just that one researcher who might actually find a cure to all kids’ cancers.

And for Millie, she just wants to keep fundraising so that no other kid ever has to go through what she went through. That’s what drives her. Hopefully, one day that will happen.

- Kevin

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