Our Friend’s Stories
Throughout our time at The Royal Children’s Hospital, we met many other strong families and supportive hospital staff and medical professionals who all have a story to tell. Read their stories below for more reflections on the childhood cancer journey.
Alex (Art Therapist, The Royal Children's Hospital)
I remember so clearly the first time I met Alfred and his mum Madeline on the Kookaburra oncology ward at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. From the first interaction I could see how much Madeline cared for her son and I could feel the deep love she had for her whole family. In my first art therapy session with Alfred, he appeared quiet and somewhat reserved in his engagement with the art materials, but this didn’t last long at all. With the comfort of his mum by his side and his natural interest and openness to artistic exploration, by the end of the session Alfred was both visually and verbally expressing himself and storytelling through his art.
Alfred and I worked together across his lengthy stay in hospital and developed a beautiful, therapeutic bond. Alfred has a way of being so honest in his art making that I began to really hear his story through his images. Alfred used art therapy to express the good, the bad, the scary and the hopeful. A special quality I noticed about Alfred was his connection to his family and how often he would create artworks for his family members. Alfred was committed to his favourite colour – purple, and so often used this colour to really make his mark.
In our final art therapy session together, Alfred created a powerful image of him and I being protected in a purple house, from a huge purple storm. I often wonder if the storm represented Alfred’s illness and whether the house was his acknowledgment of found feelings of safety. I’m so honored to have met Alfred and his family and I am certain that they have a wonderful future ahead.
Cris & Taiyo
Cris and Madeline’s friendship started in a waiting room. Two mums. Masked, eyes meet, smiling across their boys. August 2020. Melbourne was in COVID lock-down and Launceston’s Madeline Gordon and Melbourne’s Cris David were taking their boys – Alfred and Taiyo – aged 3 and 4, for cancer appointments at Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital. Some people have a special `rightness’ about them and Cris says she sensed the rightness, honesty and connection in Madeline’s eyes.
They are mums on almost identical cancer journeys – during COVID. What are the chances? Taiyo is 12 months ahead of Alfred on his journey with T-lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-LBL), a rare form of aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Both boys were originally diagnosed with asthma. Both were on the same path of blood tests and x-rays with both families devastated by the same diagnosis of childhood cancer. Memories of that waiting-room connection between mums and their boys trigger ‘epiphany’ tears from Madeline and Cris. From that moment, they had each other. Mums and boys. Intimate. Laughter and tears. Their meeting in a hospital waiting room, during COVID was a miracle of a moment.
Madeline, husband Will, Remy, baby Margaret and Alfred were also living close to Taiyo, his father Leo Pimentel and Cris at Elwick. Alfred’s diagnosis, like Taiyo’s, meant rigorous and aggressive treatment. In the maelstrom of treatment the boys formed a bubble of fun. The families sharing a cancer-created friendship and a strong, positive network. Those boys have so much fun that during 2021, when Taiyo was offered a holiday he wanted a “hospital holiday.’’ It wasn’t always the case. In 2019, when Taiyo was diagnosed, Cris struggled with optimism and her tendency to worry. “I thought I would never smile again,’’ Cris said. Leo gently suggested it was important to find fun and reflect positivity onto Taiyo. “He would feed off our energy. We needed to be positive. We determined that we would have the funnest cancer experience possible,’’ Cris said.
Like good medicine, the boys’ fun treatment is integral to the whole of village approach to cancer treatment.