The lights on the fig trees at the Bundaberg Multiplex are shining bright to support The Golden Octopus Foundation and local children, like Zaria Bewick, who have battled or are battling cancer.
Every year up to five local families receive the devastating news their child has cancer.
The Golden Octopus Foundation strives to provide recognition for families in regional areas while helping them to access oncology trials and facilities previously only available in metropolitan centres.
It is one of many organisations that can provide support for children like Zaria, who just last weekend celebrated five years cancer-free.
When she was just 19 months old Zaria's mum Chantal and dad David were told their little girl had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
“Zaria’s diagnosis came as a shock as up until the 15 July we thought we had a very healthy child who was living life with a cheeky grin and infectious laugh,” Chantal said.
“On the 15 July 2015, Zaria had a low-grade temperature and that night she was reluctant to walk or bear weight on her legs.
“I now know that not bearing weight on their legs is a common sign of leukaemia in children – as the leukaemia is rife in the body and affects the bones and causes them much pain to bear weight.
“Following a blood test, I was given the news at the local Bundaberg Hospital that it appeared our 19-month precious girl had a blood cancer.”
At the time, the Bundaberg family didn’t realise the distressing diagnosis would lead to years of treatment, and they would need to reach out for support from friends, family, medical professionals and charity organisations.
“The leukaemia was taking hold of her little body rapidly and treatment was needed immediately,” Chantal said.
“ALL spreads very fast if left untreated.
“She endured countless blood tests, general anaesthetics, surgeries, chemo drugs and other preventative medication over her treatment plan which lasted for two years and two months, finishing just before her fourth birthday.
“The process was very hard on our family and of course Zaria, she was so young and wasn’t able to comprehend why she was being poked and prodded.
“I had to take extended leave to care for Zaria as we had to remain in Brisbane for a number of weeks, and then travel from Bundaberg to Brisbane each week for the next eight months for her to receive specialised treatment.
“It was a very hard time and took a toll on all of us. It turned our world upside down.”
Zaria declared cancer-free
During her ordeal Zaria continued to impress doctors and Chantal said she showed amazing resilience and strength of sprit.
“We are so proud of how she dealt with everything that was thrown at her, she approached her journey with incredible bravery and strength, she has been an inspiration to me as she continues to strive for better and look on the bright side of life,” Chantal said.
“We have been told countless times that she was incredibly mature and resilient, with such a positive attitude to her treatment and hospital trips.”
Last week the Bewick family celebrated a milestone after five years in remission from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Zaria will now be given the all clear and declared cured from cancer.
Chantal thanked Bundaberg Hospital, in particular Dr Judy Williams and Dr Chris Edwards and nurses Rachael Spanner and Kobi Pollock, who she said were incredible supportive during the family’s journey.
A long journey for Bundaberg children with cancer
Dr Chris Edwards is a general paediatrician at the Bundaberg Hospital and the clinical lead for paediatric patients with an oncological and haematological diagnoses.
“We are generally the first point of contact when children are diagnosed with cancer,” Dr Edwards said.
“We are therefore usually the clinicians breaking the bad news to the family before arranging a transfer to our tertiary centre – Queensland Children’s Hospital.
“The majority of cancer treatments are provided in Brisbane however some children are able to receive maintenance chemotherapy locally once the initial phases of treatment are complete.”
The local oncology nurse and Dr Edwards help to coordinate and administer the chemotherapy with the support and oversight of the oncologists in Brisbane.
Dr Edwards said organisations like The Golden Octopus Foundation were extremely helpful to local oncology patients and their families.
“Any additional support in providing care closer to home is very much appreciated by the child themselves and their families,” he said.
“These families are always delighted to return to their homes and any supports that increases our ability to provide care closer to home is very much appreciated.
“There are many other organisations that support child and families with cancer.
“These organisations can assist with accommodation when in Brisbane, psychological supports for families and providing children with support through this very difficult time.
“Without organisations like The Golden Octopus Foundation many families would have many additional stressors.
“They allow families to focus on the care and treatment of their child.”
The fig trees at the Bundaberg Multiplex will remain golden to support local children who have battled or are battling cancer until Sunday 25 September.
Find out more about The Golden Octopus Foundation here.