At first Julie Wignall didn’t believe 11-year-old daughter Shay’s leukemia diagnosis.
“Because you don’t want to,” the Bendigo mother said.
It was 9.30am on a school day in April this year when she got the call that would see the family’s life upended.
“I couldn’t breathe.”
Within two hours, Shay was out of school and she and her mum were on the road to Melbourne, leaving behind the rest of their family. And, aside from a handful of trips back to Bendigo, it’s where the pair have been ever since.
Shay was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and was receiving chemotherapy within a day of arriving at The Royal Children's Hospital.
While she has now been given the all clear, with no active leukemia cells, she will continue treatment until February before going on maintenance for two years.
“Leukemia is horrible but it is curable,” Ms Wignall said.
“Out of all you can get, she got the most common and most curable.”
But it hasn’t been an easy journey for Shay, or her family, putting their lives on hold while she battled the blood cancer and dealt with a weakened immune system.
The high-achieving Kennington Primary school and house captain missed most of her final year at the school, but has managed enough to enroll in year 7 next year.
“It’s very isolating for both of us,” Ms Wignall said, who has spent the last eight months by her daughter’s side.
“It’s been an adjustment for everyone.”
Shay’s eight-year-old brother Jayd and dad Wayne have remained in Bendigo, but both have made the trip down every weekend to see Shay and Ms Wignall who have been living at Ronald McDonald House when not in hospital.
Ms Wignall said without Ronald McDonald House she would have had to sell her house to afford accommodation in Melbourne.
“The Ronald McDonald House is just an amazing place – a horrible place to be, but amazing,” she said.
“Everyone has been helpful and wonderful.”
This month, Shay was also gifted a bespoke bear by Ronald McDonald House Charities that brings voices from home to a sick or injured child.
Shay’s By Your Side Bear features Jayd and her best friend’s voice.
“It was a really lovely experience,” Ms Wignall said about getting the bear.
“I press it a lot too because I just want to hear my son. It makes me smile.”
This week, Shay made it home to Bendigo for her grade 6 graduation, but returned to Melbourne on Friday to start her last round of chemotherapy.
She’ll be back for two days to celebrate Christmas with her family before beginning the last stretch at Ronald McDonald House.
“We can see the end,” Ms Wignall said, adding they hoped to be home for good before Shay’s birthday on Australia Day.
“She’s already a strong kid, but I think this will make her more determined. Leukemia doesn’t stand a chance.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities provides a home away from home for families of children being treated at nearby hospitals. To find out more, or to purchase a bear for a seriously ill or injured child visit http://www.rmhc.org.au/BYSB