Eight-year-old Ella loves all things arty and crafty. Frozen, Minecraft, playing (and sometimes getting into mischief) with her friends, snuggles with her pet cat Andy, and dancing up a storm.
Does this basically sum up every little eight year old girl you know? But while Ella may seem perfectly ordinary from the outside, she has been through more in her eight years than most people will go through in a lifetime.
Ella has spent a great deal of her short life in and out of hospital, battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). ALL is a rare disease, representing only 0.3 per cent of all cancers diagnosed. However, it is the most common form of childhood cancer.
Ella was first diagnosed with ALL on the 2nd of September, 2009. She was not even two years old. At that moment her mum, Kerryn, felt as though the world was against her. Only nine months earlier Kerryn had lost her husband Mark, Ella’s dad, to a rare form of brain cancer and was facing life as a single parent and battling to keep herself and Ella afloat financially amid a whirlwind of grief. It’s difficult to even imagine what Kerryn was going through. Cancer had taken her husband, and now it wanted to take her little girl too.
After just over two years of intensive chemotherapy treatment, Ella went into successful remission. Just think: by this point, Ella had spent more than half of her life receiving treatment for cancer. This joyful news was not to last, however, and after 13 months off treatment, Kerryn received the phone call that all parents of children with cancer dread: Ella had relapsed.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that the cancer had returned, Ella and Kerryn had to leave their home in Hobart. They had to take up residence in Melbourne at the Royal Children’s Hospital, as Hobart just wasn’t equipped to provide the care and support that Ella would require throughout another marathon of cancer treatment.
After getting the news of Ella’s relapse, Kerryn started a Facebook page to document Ella’s journey through her battle against “the beast”, as Kerryn calls it. The Ella’s Journey Facebook page has over 4,000 followers. They are a community of people who have come to love Ella without ever meeting her, and a community which provides support to Ella and Kerryn in any way it can, from monetary donations, fundraisers, gifts sent to Ella from all over Australia, and of course countless messages of support and hope.
Over the more than two years following Ella’s relapse, followers of the page were kept updated with the highs and lows of her various treatments. They cried right alongside Kerryn as she watched her little girl suffer in ways no child should, and cheered with her when the news was good.
Following Ella’s journey, we were given a rare glimpse into the day to day life of a family fighting childhood cancer. It’s easy to gloss over it all, and talk about the bravery of children like Ella. However, the reality is very harsh.
During treatment, Ella has to remain mostly isolated, as her immunity is too depleted to be able to risk picking up an infection. Her skin is ultra-sensitive to sunlight, so even on the occasion doctors allow her to go outside, she needs to be covered up completely from head to toe.
The steroids she needs to take cause her to become extremely irritable and lash out, and also gives her an insatiable hunger. At points during her chemo treatment, Ella was in agony due to mouth ulcers, a side effect of the chemo itself. And of course, there is the hair loss, which can be very distressing to a little girl.