'Why my child? She hasn't been in the world for very long'
CRADLING her fragile toddler Kacey close at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane, Kirsten Sanfilippo recalls the moment her "world turned upside down".
"You just think the worst because all you know is that your child has cancer," the Mackay resident says softly, trying not to wake her sleeping two-year-old daughter.
"You go through all the feelings of blame - you just think 'Why my child? She hasn't been in the world for very long'."
Kirsten suspected something was wrong in March when the normally bright and bubbly little girl became tired and miserable and strange bruises appeared across her body.
Their trip to the doctor ended with a blood test and the shocking news that Kacey had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Known as ALL, the disease makes the body produce immature white blood cells that in turn prevent the bone marrow from creating normal healthy blood cells.
Once the white cells move into the bloodstream they cause anaemia, bleeding and bruising so doctors have to move fast to stem the damage.
The disease impacts about 300 Australians each year and is usually found in children under 14 years old.
While it is the most common of all childhood cancers, researchers are not entirely sure why it infects healthy youngsters like Kacey.
Describing her daughter's diagnosis as "just luck of the draw", Kirsten is determined to ensure Kacey receives the best treatment and care on offer.
Over the past eight months, Kacey's little body has been hammered with chemotherapy three times a week.
She endures multiple blood infusions and round after round of tests and examinations.
"The type of leukaemia she has means she will respond to chemotherapy well," Kirsten says.
The battle to erase the cancer from Kacey's little body means tummy bugs, fevers and other ailments are becoming par for the course.
Kacey's been a trouper and her parents are hanging onto the very slim hope that they might return to Mackay in time for Christmas.
The Sanfilippo family moved from Mackay to Brisbane temporarily.
When not staying at the hospital they all squeeze into a tiny unit near Lady Cilento.
While statistics show high relationship breakdown rates between couples who have children with cancer, Kirsten and David are determined to come out the other side in one piece.
Together for 10 years and married for four, Kirsten says the past eight months were pretty tough on her and her husband.
"We've had times where it is really hard because all three of us are living in each other's pockets 24/7," she said.
"We do have moments where the stress gets too much and we argue over the processes.
"But we stop and realise that there is a bigger picture and we know if we can get through this, we can get through anything."
They have a lot of help from family, friends and the Mackay community who have all dug deep to ensure the couple can make ends meet until they return home.
They also receive some money from Centrelink and the Leukaemia Foundation is providing their unit rent-free.
The Children's Hospital Foundation also plays a key role in the lives of the Sanfilippos.
From clown doctors to cuddle carers and music therapy, the foundation and its dedicated team of volunteers do their best to ensure Kacey is surrounded by fun and positivity, particularly when she is receiving treatment that can be traumatic and scary for her.
The foundation volunteers also look after Kirsten and David by taking care of Kacey to give the couple much needed time out.
"The foundation has been great because when she is feeling good it's hard to keep Kacey in a hospital bed," Kristen said.
"She's a typical toddler - she wants to get down and play so having volunteers bring toys and books is great.
"We've benefited a lot from music therapy as well - she is too little to understand what is going on. It helps distract from the things that aren't nice."
Kacey's stay at Lady Cilento should be over by the New Year, but when she returns home she will face a further 18 months of maintenance treatment including oral and intravenous chemotherapy.
She will also have regular trips to Brisbane for check-ups, but doctors are confident she will make a full recovery.
Kacey is just one of 382 Mackay residents treated at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital 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 don't really know all of this hospital and the foundation exist until you are put in this situation," Kirsten said.
"They're a godsend and that's why it's important to donate."
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.