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Mum's shock: The day I thought my son would die

In 2015, Fraser Coast lad Mitchell Cawthray was diagnosed with cancer. Today the youngster is impressing his mum Janine and his doctors with his remarkable recovery.
In 2015, Fraser Coast lad Mitchell Cawthray was diagnosed with cancer. Today the youngster is impressing his mum Janine and his doctors with his remarkable recovery. Alistair Brightman

YOUNG Mitchell Cawthray's experience of cancer could save other kids' lives.

In April of 2015, the then 11-year-old Fraser Coast lad was diagnosed with cancer after doctors discovered a malignant brain tumour larger than a golf ball at the base of his head.

Known as medullablastoma, the disease is the most common form of malignant brain tumour found in children.

The youngster was diagnosed after he started hearing a "swishing" noise in his head.

"He was complaining about headaches and a funny noise, then he started vomiting in the morning and it really got worse over six weeks," Mitchell's mother Janine said.

"I thought 'Something's not right here' so I took him to the GP and as we were driving away Mitchell said 'Maybe I should have told the doctor I've been seeing two of everything'."

Mitchell was sent to Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane where Janine had one of the hardest discussions any parent could experience.

"We were cuddled up in bed, waiting for them to come and get Mitchell for surgery," Janine said.

"He asked me what would happen?

"I said 'One of three things'.

"You will either die and you will be with granddad in heaven looking over us and that's OK.

"Or you will come out of surgery and you may not walk, talk or you might be in a wheelchair or you might be really sick for the rest of your life and that's OK to because Mum and Dad will look after you.

"Or you will be sick for a little while, then you will eventually walk and talk again.

"Whatever happens and it will be OK.

"He just went into surgery like a little trouper and I sang him to sleep with Everything is Awesome.

"The nurses cried, I cried - it was devastating."

Doctors spent six hours removing about 98% of the tumour.

Against the odds, Mitchell came through with flying colours, impressing his specialists with his ability to recover.

"Our prognosis at the time was a 60% survival rate over five years," Janine said.

"The surgeon did an awesome job.

"During his recovery I really pushed him - I was a cow of a mother because we wanted him to walk, we wanted him to eat."

Following surgery, Janine, husband Ian and Mitchell were given the option of "standardised treatment" or to take part in a Children's Hospital Foundation-sponsored research program that involved significantly more chemotherapy and trial drugs.

"We decided to do the research program because if it didn't help Mitchell it might help others," Janine said.

"We were also thinking a little selfishly because the trial was not just using Australian expertise - it involved specialists from America, NZ and Canada."

Mitchell completed about 30 radiation treatments, eight months of chemotherapy sessions and a course of growth hormones.

He's now back home on the Fraser Coast and has returned to school part-time.

Mitchell still needs six-monthly checks at Lady Cilento's oncology and neurosurgery units and 12-monthly reviews at the audiology, ophthalmology and endocrine departments.

His prognosis is good despite a few side effects from the medicines.

"If you see Mitchell in the street you'd think he's a healthy young man," Janine said.

"He walks and talks fine and he's very loving, caring and measured in his thinking.

"He's doing well at school but the fatigue from the treatment and the side effects mean he can only go part-time."

While there is a chance the cancer could return, Janine and Ian are determined to make sure Mitchell has the best life they can offer.

"There is not much they can do for relapses of Mitchell's type of cancer," Janine said.

"We just make plans hoping that little ticking time bomb doesn't come back."

Mitchell is one of 989 Wide Bay residents treated at Lady Cilento last financial year.

The youngster is taking on a big challenge, helping to promote the annual Channel Nine Telethon supporting the Children's Hospital Foundation on Saturday (November 18).

The appeal aims to raise $11 million.

As well as supporting patients at LCCH, money raised during the telethon pays for vital medical equipment, research and a range of medical services at Lady Cilento and throughout regional Queensland and Northern NSW.

"You always think it happens to someone else," Janine said.

"The Children's Hospital Foundation brings a little bit of fun and colour into your child's life so the grown-ups can deal with all the adult stuff."

 

Children celebrate the $12m raised during the 2016 Channel Nine Telethon that supports the Children's Hospital Foundation.
Children celebrate the $12m raised during the 2016 Channel Nine Telethon that supports the Children's Hospital Foundation.

Tune in to TV to dial up support for sick kids

THIS year's Channel Nine Telethon organisers hope to dial up $11 million of support for our sick kids.

The star-studded annual event will be broadcast across Queensland and Northern NSW on Saturday (November 18).  

It raises money for the Children's Hospital Foundation.

The foundation provides vital support for young patients attending Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, 60 per cent of whom come from regional Queensland and Northern NSW.

The telethon has raised about $32 million since 2014.

That money has been invested in life-saving medical research, vital pediatric equipment and for "comfort and entertainment" services for ill children and their families.

The foundation has committed $5 million to fund research into priority health areas including cystic fibrosis, childhood nutrition and brain cancer.

"The survival rates for brain cancer have not improved during the past 30 years and only 20 per cent of children with the disease will survive," foundation CEO Rosie Simpson said.

"And if they do survive, they face really chronic health issues throughout their lives."

The foundation offers a significant bright spot in the lives of children who stay at Lady Cilento.

It offers the in-house Juiced TV where kids get to star in their own television show.

It also provides the fun Clown Doctors, volunteers who entertain children with books, movies and games so parents can take a break, the Cuddle Carers program for babies, music therapy, pet therapy, special events and hospital visits by famous people.

"We also help pay for clothes for the kids, we offer travel grants for families to join their child in hospital and we fund the social work program so the families are supported," Ms Simpson said.

"The idea is to try to ensure the children have as normal a time as possible while they are in hospital."

The telethon starts at 7pm on Saturday and there will be a special documentary on the Lady Cilento and its patients from 5pm.

The entertainment line-up includes Leo Sayer, Pseudo Echo, The Voice 2017 winner Judah Kelly, Eurovision star Dami Im and rock band Dragon.- NewsRegional

Donate at 9telethon.com.au or by phoning 1800 909 900.

Topics:  channel nine channel nine telethon children's hospital foundation telethon fundraising health lady cilento children's hospital sick kids

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