The last hours of Christmas Day shouldn’t be spent in an emergency ward, wondering if your four-year-old will ever make it back home to open her presents.
But that’s exactly where the Pappas family found themselves in 2012.
The joy of Christmas Day soon turned to heartbreak when mum Jodie had her worst fears confirmed. Her daughter, India, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and her family feared she would never see another Christmas.
Even using the best treatments available today, India’s journey would be long and traumatic – with no certain outcome.
“I remember the doctor telling us that India had blood cancer. I just fainted. I fainted a couple of times that night,” said Jodie.
“And I remember the noise my husband made…just this primal-like scream.”
Jodie recalls how her family’s world was suddenly turned upside down.
“India was white as a ghost – so different from a normal four-year-old at Christmas,” said Jodie. “She didn’t even smile.”
India began chemotherapy straight away and, understandably, had a very hard time coping.
“It was just such a struggle. Every time she went to theatre for a lumbar puncture, four of us had to restrain her. It was absolutely heartbreaking."
Sadly, blood cancer does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone, young or old, in any place at any time.
That’s why the Leukaemia Foundation is committed to funding research into less harrowing blood cancer treatments and ultimately cures, like the work being done by PhD student Matthew Witkowski.
Through a grant funded by our National Research Program, Matthew is trying to understand how a gene called IKAROS controls how well someone responds to chemotherapy.
“Many children will respond well to therapy, but a proportion will experience a relapse of the disease. My job is to find out why,” he said.
Matthew is so passionate about helping people with leukaemia that he took time out to meet India during one of the Leukaemia Foundation’s fundraising events (pictured left).
“Her mum, Jodie, was right there with her, and she is one hell of a mum,” said Matthew. “I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d be to experience what they did.
"The whole Pappas family are a brilliant bunch of people. They’ve been through a lot, but they are extremely positive and caring. India is a beautiful young girl – I’m very proud to know such a champion.”
India celebrated her last dose of chemotherapy in February 2016.
At her ‘My Leukaemia’s Gone’ celebration, a beaming India, encircled by brightly coloured balloons, said: “I did it. I beat you leukaemia. This is the best day of my life.”
“I did it. I beat you leukaemia. This is the best day of my life.”
India, you are amazing.
We are certainly still celebrating with you!
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