“I went bald during this part, when did you go bald? My hair’s growing back now and it’s spiky, yours is fluffy. How long are you going to grow your hair? Are you having the same blood as me today?”
It’s conversations like these no parent ever hopes to hear that helped then-four year old’s Ted and Isla make sense of the grown-up world of cancer treatment.
Diagnosed with leukaemia just three weeks apart, these toddlers were brought together from opposite ends of Sydney in what can only be described as the silver lining to an awful situation.
For Ted’s parents, his diagnosis came without warning, with just a mere 12 hours between bike riding with his grandmother the day before and being unable to walk on his own.
“We found out [about Ted’s diagnosis] a few days before his fourth birthday. Around midnight one night he started complaining that his bum hurt, and by the time we went to the chemist first thing the next day, he’d spiralled pretty quickly,” Ted’s mum, Natalee told Mamamia.
“When we got him to the hospital, he couldn’t hold his own weight, if he tried to walk or stand he would collapse to the ground. But there were no real indications before that, he hadn’t been sick, there wasn’t any bruising, nothing like the common symptoms.
“On the Friday evening, they told us he had some kind of infection, but we spent the weekend being told, ‘he’ll be fine, he’ll pick up soon’. But by the Monday, we got the feeling it might not be that simple. We’d had a conversation on the Sunday and [Ted’s father] Andrew had said to me, ‘don’t worry, it’s not like it’s going to be leukaemia’ – when we found out that’s what it was, it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air, you couldn’t breathe.”
Despite the small comfort of knowing what was wrong and having a plan moving forward, beginning Ted’s treatment was daunting. But Natalee believes the friendship between Ted and Isla, and their families, made all the difference.
"In the hospital, they put you in a shared room of four families. You're there for quite a long time with other families, and as the days pass you start talking with the other parents. Andrew and I started chatting to [Isla's Dad] Darrin, which prompted the kids to start asking each other questions," Natalee recalled.
"Isla had Lego, which was probably the biggest draw card for Ted, they started playing together and the rest was history. Our two families clicked, we found it really easy to talk to Isla's parents, and the kids found it easy to talk to each other."