A diagnosis that changed a family’s life

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A matter of days and a visit to the doctor is all it took for one North Otago family’s lives to be changed forever.
On June 22 last year, Bonnie Davidson (6), daughter of Anna Maxwell and Hugh Davidson, who run a 243ha farm near Ngapara, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukaemia, an acute form of cancer characterised by the overproduction and accumulation of cancerous, immature white cells known as lymphoblasts.
While Ms Maxwell was concerned for her daughter’s health, she never expected it would eventually lead to a diagnosis all parents fear.
“She was falling asleep on the bus. Our children are getting up at 6.30am to get the bus to Oamaru North School and I don’t get them off the bus until 4.30pm,” she said.
“I never thought leukaemia … she was quite tired and all of a sudden she got a swollen tonsil on the left-hand side. She had a spiked temperature and had a couple of days off school. The doctor said it looked viral, Her energy levels were very low.”After several days, Bonnie had still not recovered, so Ms Maxwell took her back to the family doctor, who sent Bonnie to Oamaru Hospital for urgent blood tests.
There, she was instructed to get Bonnie to Christchurch as soon as possible.
So desperate were Ms Maxwell and Mr Davidson to get Bonnie to Christchurch’s Children’s Haematology Oncology Centre for diagnosis, they chartered a helicopter to get her there.
“All of this happened in a couple of hours. He [the doctor] said, `Bonnie’s got leukaemia’.
“My initial reaction was absolute shock and thinking of that terrible, nasty cancer all through her. I thought, `Oh my God, my child is sick and kids die from this. This is really serious’. The second reaction was, `Where do we get treatment? I want it now’.
“Bonnie and I spent the first two months after she was diagnosed in Christchurch. As it’s worked out, over the last seven months we’ve spent three months in hospital, mostly in Christchurch but also in Dunedin.”Bonnie is given a bead each time she undergoes some form of treatment, as all young cancer patients are, and now has more than 400 as well as a blessed piece of pounamu.
She takes an oral form of chemotherapy each day, which she will do until September 2017 when her treatment finishes, and a steroid treatment for one week each month. She takes liquid antibiotics two days a week.
Ms Maxwell said Bonnie had been “absolutely amazing” throughout the whole process, from the time she was diagnosed to now.
“Initially, it was very scary for her, having never been admitted to hospital. I think it was seeing the other children with their bald heads and their limbs and some kids who had had their limbs amputated.”She said her husband had to stop work as a livestock agent and they were forced to sell young working dogs and horses.
“We’ve had no income since June … but we can survive. We’ve had some good support from Women in Farming and people have dropped in cooking and baking. There’s been fundraisers and we’ve been given fuel vouchers. People have been generous.
“Oamaru North School has been great. The older students and the wee guys see her as normal Bonnie _ it’s lovely, actually.”Ms Maxwell said “normal was different now”.
“The biggest change for the family has been that the focus now revolves around Bonnie. We have to be within an hour of a hospital or anyone who can access a vein.
“We don’t go up to the lakes, we don’t go on a holiday, because we are mindful of that and we only have one chance at this treatment. We’re very aware of trying to keep her in good health. It’s our responsibility as parents.”Due to chemotherapy, Bonnie is not protected against diseases such as measles, chicken pox or shingles and is more susceptible to stomach bugs.
However, her treatment has worked so far and her mother said the odds of Bonnie making a full recovery were “80 to 20” in her favour.

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