Families struggling with cancer cry out for more support
MITCHELL Luders, 11, and Steven Vesel, 10 are two mates with a special bond.
But unlike other boys their age who share an interest in football or video games, their friendship was formed as they both underwent treatment for a very rare form of cancer.
Neuroblastoma affects 40 people in Australia each year, with the majority of those being children under five.
Remarkably, despite doctors telling Steven's mother Kylee he was the third case of neuroblastoma in his age group they had seen in seven years, not very far away from their hometown of Calliope, the Luders family in Gladstone was going through the same ordeal.
After being diagnosed in August last year, Steven underwent four cycles of chemotherapy to reduce a 20cm tumour in his abdomen.
Mrs Vesel said she would like to see more awareness about the disease and other forms of childhood cancer.
"There is a lot of childhood cancer in Gladstone that people don't know about," she said.
"Getting these kids together and sharing stories would be great.
"When Steven had the thing on this stomach, he turned around and said 'that's been there for a while'…so to tell parents, to get their kids that if they notice something different to come out and let you know.
"We could have caught it a lot earlier, but we are still quite lucky that it hadn't spread anywhere else."
He is currently back in Gladstone after having the tumour removed, but Steven is due back in the city in March to see if all the cancer cells have been removed.
"(Relapse) is something I dread and I think the anxiety of scans all of the time, we're starting to feel that too."
For the Luders, fear of relapse became a reality when Mitchell's cancer returned after eight months of being in remission.
Mitchell's mum Rochelle said going through it a second time was difficult but the family of five was putting 'one foot in front of the other'.
"Being so far away from a city hospital, we get split up because we can't get treatment here, so now we have to relocate to Brisbane pretty much for the treatment," she said.
"I am home for a week this time, and that's the longest we've been home since June last year."
Although supported financially by the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme, she said maintaining two households and the emotional toll of treatment and travelling quickly added up, and that was where a local support group could fill in the gaps.
"We're very well supported while we're in Brisbane, we have a whole team to look after everybody down there, but that's lost when you come back home because there's nothing here at all.
"There's nobody to bounce things off, or a nurse or social worker to pick up the phone and talk to.
"So I think, as a group, there's a lot we could do to support each other through that, and sadly there's enough kids with cancer in Gladstone to make that a real, worthwhile group, so that's the crazy thing."
- Occurs most commonly in children aged 0 to 5.
- Is a solid tumour arising from nerve cells that run up a child's abdomen and chest into the skull following the line of the spinal cord.
- Half of the tumours start in the adrenal gland above the kidney.
- There are no clear environmental links.
- Depending on the type, survival rate can be as low as 40%.
Information from neuroblastoma.org.au.