Behind his big, bright eyes and soft brown curls, Bundaberg’s Dash Leather is fighting childhood leukemia after being diagnosed on New Year's Eve.
The festive season is normally one for families to come together to celebrate. Christmas is a time of joy, and as the first of January ticks over the promise of a new year brings hope to many.
But for Dash’s parents Shaun Leather and Paris Hardwick it was a time they received the devastating news that their four-and-a-half-year-old son Dash has cancer.
Shaun said as locals welcomed in the new year his world turned upside down as he awaited test results at Bundaberg Hospital, before hearing the words – “your son has blood cancer”.
“We spent our New Year’s Eve in complete despair thinking how could this even be possible? You could not start a New Year with any worse news, honestly,” Paris said.
Shaun said in the lead up to the devasting news, Dash had complained of being unwell, but they didn’t think much of it initially as the energetic Dash had only ever been to see a doctor twice, and a dentist once, in his whole life.
“On Christmas Day we were visiting family in Toowoomba and he was riding horses and playing with sheep,” Shaun said.
“Then on Boxing Day he became lethargic and he changed colour a little bit. We travelled home to Bundaberg and Dash slept the entire way, and I thought he may have been car sick.
“And then just days later, on New Year’s Day, we were flown to Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, where he was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).”
During the first week of 2021, young Dash has undergone extensive medical treatment, including five blood transfusions and he was started on chemotherapy immediately after diagnosis to help fight the disease.
His parents said Dash is keeping in good spirits despite the circumstances, and they thanked medical staff for their kindness.
“He is doing extremely well for someone who hasn’t had any interactions with doctors or nurses in the past,” Shaun said.
“It’s given me a whole new appreciation for doctors and nurses – they really cared about the situation from the beginning – and I didn’t know what to expect.”
“And Dash thinks it’s pretty cool he gets breakfast in bed every morning,” Paris said.
“He is keeping in high spirits.”
An engineer at Isis Sugar, Shaun said he had just started annual leave after the crushing season had finished, and although he planned to spend his holidays a little differently, there was no place he would rather be than by his son’s hospital bed helping him to fight childhood cancer.
“Dash is the perfect little boy, he can be sassy, he loves fishing and riding his bike, his teachers at Cuddle Bugs Kindy always say he is a pleasure,” Shaun said.
Paris, who lives on the Gold Coast with Dash’s older brother Noah, said she understood the survival rate for childhood leukaemia is very good and that Dash’s overall prognosis is positive, but they have a long fight ahead of them.
“Overnight Shaun's life changed. He has had no choice but to temporarily relocate to Brisbane and he has taken six months off work so that Dash can have both of his parents by his side for support in this very difficult time,” she said.
The family have started a GoFundMe page to help support them while Dash undergoes treatment in Brisbane.
“We’ve been told there could be three years of treatment, and Shaun will be away from Bundaberg and his work for between three and six months at the very least,” Paris said.
“Any money that is left over once Dash is cured will be donated towards childhood cancer research so that we can help them find a cure for this terrible illness.
“Dash now has an Instagram page for those of you wishing to follow his journey.”