'Our three-year-old son has a brain tumour. There's still so many moments of joy.'

Camp Quality
Thanks to our brand partner, Camp Quality

Since this story was published, Henry Darvell has sadly passed away. Alex and Mark have given their permission for Mamamia to continue sharing Henry's story.

Life for Alex and Mark with their four kids was blissfully chaotic. 

"Every day was a madhouse," Mark told Mamamia.

"Two girls growing up, running around, starting prep, ending kindy, and a little man who was just turning two and tearing the house up, climbing our benches, stealing our food out of the pantry, and just running amuck. It was a madhouse, but it was great."  

Add to that a young baby, and careers to juggle, and you’re looking at a pretty typical picture of young family life. 

That was until a day at the park in 2022 that shattered their world as they knew it.

Image: Supplied. 


After Henry, who was just two at the time, fell over and hit his head while chasing a bird, he was taken to hospital for tests as a precaution. 

But the results revealed something much worse than Alex and Mark could've ever imagined  – there was tumour the size of a mandarin growing in their toddler's head. 

16 months on, the brave Queensland family share what they've learned as they support their little boy through the fight of his life. 

You can never see it coming.

"I think I floated away from my body at that time (of diagnosis)," Alex said. 

"I had never ever even suspected a tumour or brain cancer, it was just not even something I ever thought was possible."

"He was just a bundle of joy, an absolute tornado of a kid and we couldn’t keep him still," Mark added. 

It’s important to be around others going through the same thing.

When Henry was first diagnosed, the couple vividly recall a sense of isolation. Stuck in survival mode and dividing their time and attention between aggressive treatments in the hospital for Henry, and the daily life of three other little ones, there was little time or opportunity for the family to be together. 


But a ray of light came in the form of a brochure from their social worker. 

"The first program that we did with Camp Quality was a family fun day at Dreamworld. It was one of the first times we had gone out together as a family since Henry had been sick," Alex recounted. 

"We had a great day, and we were so spoiled – it was just really fun. It was really well planned for families like ours."

Camp Quality has been offering kids with cancer the chance to just be kids for over 40 years. They give families like Alex and Mark’s the space for playfulness, fun and connection – things that can be in short supply when dealing with cancer. 

As a non-government funded charity, they do this entirely through the power of donations from the generous public who want to give families experiencing childhood cancer back some of the precious time together that they’ve lost. 

"Camp Quality has given our family the chance to just take a break, have a breath of fresh air, and meet new people," Mark said. 

Though their first three-day family camp felt utterly daunting to Alex, she is so thankful they took the leap. 

"I knew that another family that I had met in the halls of the hospital was going, and I was so excited about that, but it’s a really scary thought to go away with four children in the best of circumstances, let alone when you’ve got one that’s really not well," she said. 


Not only was their first camp a success, but it was also the beginning of beautiful new friendships and became the first of many moments of comfort in their journey. 

"It just makes life feel lighter. Life has been really heavy for the last 16 months for us," Alex said of the relief that Camp Quality has offered them.

Henry's older sister Ava at a Camp Quality camp. Image: Supplied. 


You don’t realise how strong you are until you have to be.

"We hear from a lot of people that they just couldn’t possibly imagine going through what we have gone through, what Henry has gone through. And I couldn’t have imagined it in my wildest nightmares until it happened to us," Alex said. 

And although both she and Mark are open about how impossible their cancer journey has felt at times, they both remain so resilient in the face of the unimaginable. 

"I don’t know how we get through it, I honestly don’t know, you just kind of have no choice," Alex said.  

For Mark, watching his son face it all with such bravery has left him awestruck. 

"When Henry was going through high-dose chemotherapy, what would seem like a struggle for most, he would just up and do (things)… Seeing him react so well gave me a lot of positivity and strength that things were heading in the right direction," he said. 

Image: Supplied. 


Your other kids grow up too fast, but their resilience is astounding.

Alex said one of the hardest parts has been being away from their other kids and missing important milestones when they needed to be at the hospital. 

"Mark and I would swap at the hospital every day for the first two months and it meant time away from the kids at home. And then whoever was home was missing out on being with Henry when he really needed us as well," Alex said.

But watching how their other kids have responded to the crisis has been one of their greatest joys in the last 16 months.

"They’re amazing," Alex said of Henry’s siblings. 

"They’ve had to find new ways to play with him. Ava loves watching Henry do his therapies. She is just the most caring little girl and she just wants to see Henry do better. And Thea sees us giving him his medicine and his food in his tube and she just wants to help."

"Ava just went on her first kids' camp and she's come home beaming. To see her smiling and just being a normal nine year old, it just makes us all really happy."


Watching their youngest, two-year-old Teddy, run around with his sisters has been bittersweet for the family, as it’s the same age Henry was before he was diagnosed. 

"What’s really hard is to see Teddy running around with his sisters, just having a great time and not seeing Henry being able to do that," Alex said. 

There is still so much to celebrate.

As for where the family is at now, Alex said the family are focusing on celebrating every win as Henry continues his treatment.

"Henry is learning to do all the things again. We spend our days just helping him to get better and stronger and it’s looking good," she said. 

She is endlessly amazed by the strength of her little boy.

"Everything he does we need to celebrate, because he has to work so hard to do everything. 

"Right now, he’s sitting on the couch playing with a car and just to be able to hold it right now is difficult because he has more weakness now. Everything is hard work for him, but he doesn’t get frustrated by it, he just kind of gets on with it."

Support kids like Henry by donating to help Camp Quality give back childhood fun and family reconnection in their darkest days. 

Feature Image: Supplied. 

Camp Quality
Will you give kids like Henry the best gift of all this Christmas? Donate today Camp Quality Org fundraising.