International Childhood Cancer Day was on Sunday 15 February, 2015. It was a special day for the Psaradellis family from Sans Souci, in Sydney. Not only did they celebrate that their eight year old daughter, Maria, is well again, they were also celebrating that it’s been six years since she finished treatment for cancer.
At just three months of age, Maria was diagnosed with a PNET (Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumour) in her neck. It was 3cm in diameter, growing quickly and pressing on her windpipe causing her to stop breathing and turn blue. The position of the tumour meant it was too risky to try and surgically remove it, so Maria underwent 19 long months of chemotherapy and 24 rounds of radiotherapy which required her to be placed under general anaesthetic each day. They were brutal treatments but necessary to try and shrink the tumour that was stopping her from breathing properly.
“It was so frightening, especially when she was turning blue and we were having to resuscitate her. The doctors wanted to start chemotherapy treatment immediately as she had a tube in her throat to help her breathe because the tumour was starting to block her airway. They wanted to try and shrink the tumour so the tube could be removed as she was at high risk of infection. She was just a baby at three months old, and the treatments sounded frightening, but what other option do you have?” said Cathy Psaradellis, Maria’s mother.
Despite the distress and trauma their family has been through though, Cathy and her husband Harry consider themselves lucky. Lucky because they could take their daughter home and watch as she grows into a beautiful young lady.
“Looking at Maria now, it’s hard to believe what she has been through at such a young age. She’s eight years old and in Year 3 at school. But when this all happened, she was just three months old and her treatment lasted until she was almost two. We marked a lot of her ‘firsts’ in hospital – she took her first steps in the oncology ward at Sydney Children’s Hospital and said her first words there too. She does have some side effects from the treatments she had as they were incredibly harsh on her little body. But they saved her life. We call Maria’s doctors miracle workers – they really are,” Cathy said.
“We were also lucky to come into contact with the Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation (SWCCF) which is dedicated to raising money for research into a cure for childhood cancer. More research is needed because there are so many different types of cancer and each child needs specific treatment tailored to them,” she said.
It’s research like this that SWCCF is funding, having raised more than $6 million for research into a cure for childhood cancer over the past 15 years – vital to ensuring that one day all children diagnosed with cancer can be guaranteed a future.
“Over the past 75 years, the cure rate for childhood cancer has improved from 10 per cent to 80 per cent. So there is still some way to go before we reach 100 per cent, but the reason we’ve come this far is simple – research,” said Susan Walter, Director, Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation.
“Cutting edge research is being conducted around the world with the aim of taking what’s being learn’t at the laboratory bench and delivering it straight to the bedside. But without funding, the scientific breakthroughs that help us work towards a cure and create innovative new treatments just won’t continue to happen,” she said.
“Our motivation to keep going is given a huge boost when we see children like Maria thriving and growing into such a lovely young people. She’s a shining example of why we need to continue to support research into a cure for childhood cancer, so that every child diagnosed with cancer has a chance to grow, take their place in society and enjoy life,” Sue said.
If you’d like to support research into a cure for childhood cancer in honour of International Childhood Cancer Day, make a donation today.
See the articles published in the Sun Herald on Sunday 15 February and The St George & Sutherland Shire Leader on Tuesday 24 February about Maria’s amazing story of survival.