1 April 2024

Cooktown's family's life turned upside down by cancer diagnosis

| Chisa Hasegawa
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Three-year-old Manaia was diagnosed with a childhood cancer that changed his family’s life. Photo: Supplied.

In under a week, the Cooktown community has raised over $11,000 dollars to help a family whose lives were forever changed after learning their three-year-old boy has cancer.

Like a script from every parent’s worst nightmare, a healthy and energetic Manaia called out one night after passing a “huge amount of blood in his urine”.

Suddenly diagnosed with a Wilms tumour, a childhood cancer that had taken over the majority of his left kidney, Manaia was transferred to Brisbane for surgery and chemotherapy.

Manaia’s mother, Desiree Gibson, said the diagnosis had stunned the family, adding the situation still seemed surreal.

“You see this stuff happen in movies, or you don’t think it’s going to happen to you, and when it does happen, it doesn’t seem real,” she said.

“Our whole world is completely changed, and I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to have that carefree life again.”

Ms Gibson said it was heartbreaking to see her son so confused about the situation.

“A three-year-old that has no idea what’s going on walks into a hospital one day, and then wakes up with a cut on his chest and a cut on his stomach; it’s very scary,” she said.

Manaia will undergo chemotherapy for the next six months, including throughout his fourth birthday.

“Chemotherapy on a young child is unimaginable,” Ms Gibson said.

“He’s going to lose his full head of wonderful, curly brown hair that he has, and having a very low immune system, even after chemotherapy is finished, life’s going to be completely different for him.

“I just want to wrap him up in cotton wool; he’s such a fragile little boy now.”

Ms Gibson said one unexpected consequence of Mania’s diagnosis was that their close-knit family had to split up and leave their community to allow the three-year-old to receive treatment.

“I’ve had to leave two of my other children in care with my mum in Cooktown, so we’re all kind of separated as a family, and it’s just me, my partner and my son down here,” Ms Gibson said.

The family is now hoping for a transfer to Cairns in order to be closer to home and their local support network.

“It would mean a lot if we could go to Cairns, so we can reunite our family and friends, and possibly being able to return home on weekends, just to have him see his friends and give him some kind of life outside of hospital,” Ms Gibson said.

“Prior to this, he was such an open-minded, strong, adventurous boy and he loves hanging out with his friends.

“Moving away, he’s got none of that around him now, so it’s almost like a huge hole has been implemented into his life.”

With both parents unable to work and the bills continuously piling up, Ms Gibson decided to reach out to the community for help.

“I was fifty-fifty about starting a GoFundMe page, because I’m not really one to make things public or ask when we need help, so that was really huge to do” she said.

“I’m really thankful for the Cooktown community and all the extra surrounding communities, and even family and friends from down south that have put all these donations in to help our little guy.

“We don’t have that regular income coming in anymore, so that donation page is like a huge weight lifted off.”

Ms Gibson said the care and support from Brisbane Children’s Hospital had been overwhelming, and wanted to warn parents the Wilms tumour was a paediatric cancer that mostly affected children under five.

“It was at the drop of a hat; he was completely fine, was his usual self and wasn’t sick or had any infections prior,” she said.

“I’d just like to put that awareness out there to all parents to hold your babies close, because your life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.”

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