Becci McMullen may have been cancer free for the past two years, but the challenges she faces are far from over.
The 10-year-old from Taree is currently recovering from her eighth operation since Ewing’s Sarcoma was discovered in her right femur almost four years ago.
The doctors needed to break her right leg to correct it, because it had been growing at a 45 degree angle.
“What’s happened is the the plates and leg had experienced trauma and one of the plates hadn’t grown properly,” explained her mum Nicole.
Becci (Rebecca) was six when doctors discovered the tumour, which had been growing for three years.
She had been complaining of knee pain during that time but because the cancer was in the hip scans couldn’t detect anything and doctors determined the pain was being caused by “growing pains”.
“The pain in her knee was there all the time and then at soccer one day she fell over and couldn’t get up,” said Nicole.
“It all happened so quickly. It wasn’t like a broken leg but she was just in agony.”
Becci was taken to hospital where she was given some morphine and sent home with a referral for a scan on the Monday.
They went to Port Macquarie for the scan, where Nicole had requested they scan Becci’s whole body, and on their way back home received a phone call to tell them to keep driving to John Hunter Hospital.
“They couldn’t tell me over the phone and not knowing what was going on we kept driving.
“About a half an hour out from the hospital they called to tell us we needed to go to oncology.”
As they walked in the door Nicole said there were people everywhere waiting for them.
“I’m panicking as my mum was due to go on a cruise the day after.”
Everything steamrolled from there.
“The tumour had been growing for three years so it had got big by the time they found it and had spread to her lungs and spine.”
“We had to make a big choice.
“Because the cancer was so advanced she had a 23 per cent chance of living. The choice was whether to treat or make her comfortable.”
They chose to treat.
Before chemotherapy started, one of Becci’s ovaries was removed.
“Chemo kills the ovaries and I wanted her to have the choice of having children later.”
Becci endure six months of chemo to shrink the tumour before it could be removed.
“If they hadn’t she would have died because it was too big,” said Nicole.
Just before Christmas two years ago Becci underwent surgery to remove the tumour and her femur (“It had eaten away all the bone”), replacing it with a magnetic femur that will grow as she grows.
She stayed in Westmead Hospital for six weeks (including over Christmas) and the family stayed in Ronald McDonald House to be close to her.
Following the surgery she had more chemo and radiation on her spine.
Becci’s cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, is most common with prepubescent boys.
Because it is so rare and different in young girls, her doctor, Dr Stalley, always has people following him during his visits with her.
Nicole is a mum for four and gave up work when Becci was diagnosed.
Things became even more challenging when her partner left weeks later.
Her mum, Leonie Storey, has been a great support.
They estimate the overall cost of treatment and the magnetic femur to be about $110,000.
“We have private health cover but the magnetic femur is not on the PBS or covered by Medicare.”
Nicole is on a payment plan to cover the costs. “I give them what I can, I’ll get there one day.”
Becci was able to have her most recent operation at Royal North Shore Private.
And while she has been free from cancer for two years, she isn’t in remission.
“Bone cancer can pop up anywhere and it isn’t something you get remission from,” said Nicole.
She said Becci has the ability to inspire other young people in hospital.
“She’s amazing what she does. Every time she goes to hospital she motivates all the other kids,” she said.
Becci was even made an ambassador for the Camp Quality Play Therapy program.