A BENDIGO teen is facing her second grueling medical battle in three years, after her leukemia returned.
Fourteen-year-old Shay Wignall was recently diagnosed with this cancer for the second time.
It came almost exactly a year after she finished treatment for her first bout of the disease.
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With her mum Julie Keath Shay is now at the Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital for the forseeable future, undergoing treatment.
It's a process made all the more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning only Shay's mother and father can visit her in hospital.
Shay's younger brother Jayd must stand under her hospital window and wave to see his sister.
Ms Keath said Shay was "a very determined young girl" who was coping really well given the circumstances.
But it's a difficult time for the family, with the added stress of a pandemic.
Shay was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2017, aged 11.
It came after unexplained headaches, stomach aches, pain behind the knees, and a high fever. Ms Keath said Shay started to look unwell and get really tired.
They had the results of a blood test taken one day by 9am the next. By 10am they were in Melbourne.
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Ms Keath and Shay didn't come home for nine months.
Shay underwent a "brutal" round of treatment involving steroids and chemotherapy, Ms Keath said.
This time Shay's leukemia was identified very early, in a now-routine blood test.
Telling Shay the illness had returned was one of the worst experiences of Ms Keath's life, she said.
Shay will undergo the same treatment as previously, but harder.
Ms Keath said the treatment needed to be more intense because of the cancer's return and Shay's increased age.
The family will find out in a few weeks which treatment plan Shay will need to take. It could involve more chemotherapy, or a bone marrow transplant from her brother.
The illness been hard on the whole family.
Shay herself will miss more school, this time year nine. During her first leukemia treatment she missed about three quarters of year six.
Ms Keath said her daughter was a high achiever, always keen to do well at school.
Shay will do some form of home schooling, but is likely to have limited energy. She's unlikely to return to school until the second term of 2021.
Her brother is still living at home in Bendigo, being cared for by his dad Wayne Wignall, Ms Keath's fiance Damon Sheedy, and his grandparents.
Ms Keath had just restarted her photography business in August 2019, before it was stopped by COVID-19. Now she's not expecting to be able to run it for another few years.
I don't know when my daughter can see my son, or her grandparents, or my partner. I don't know when she's allowed to again.Julie Keath
Ms Keath said Shay was upset, but coping better than she had during her first bout of leukemia.
This week they dyed Shay's hair, right as it began to fall out.
Ms Keath said Shay had also begun treatment a lot healthier than the previous time, when her body was already reacting to the leukemia.
The COVID-19 pandemic means only two nominated people - Shay's parents - can visit her in hospital.
Her brother Jayd and Mr Sheedy cannot visit, despite living with Shay.
Her parents must take turns to visit. For Mr Wignall to see Shay, Ms Keath must leave the hospital, hand him her pass card, and wait outside.
Melbourne's strict COVID-19 restrictions mean she has few places to go while she waits.
Shay and Ms Keath had stayed in the Ronald McDonald House in previous years, but the COVID-19 pandemic means its communal areas are unsafe for an immune-suppressed child.
The family has been lucky to be accepted into one of the Leukemia Foundation's Melbourne apartments.
Ms Keath said the COVID-19 pandemic was an added stress on top of Shay's leukemia diagnosis.
It means that whenever Shay gets a temperature - common in children with cancer - she and Ms Keath are locked down into her hospital room until she returns a negative result to a COVID-19 test.
Safety measures mean the children undergoing treatment can't interact with each other. Ms Keath said this was particularly sad when they were losing their hair, and just wanted to see other kids like them.
Visitor restrictions have also been tough on the family.
For Ms Keath it's a reminder that people should be grateful to spend time with their children who are healthy.
"I don't know when my daughter can see my son, or her grandparents, or my partner. I don't know when she's allowed to again," Ms Keath said.
"So many people that are struggling, then COVID is just the added problem on top. It's just an added stress."
To help the family financially, friends have created a GoFundMe page.
It's already raised more than $17,000.
Ms Keath said the response had been amazing, not only from friends and family, but from strangers.
She said it was humbling to accept the help offered.
Find the GoFundMe for Shay online at: bit.ly/3jLkxWs
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