For one group of kids Christmas 2020 is going to be an extra special celebration after a year from hell for them and their families.
For one group of kids Christmas 2020 is going to be an extra special celebration after a year from hell for them and their families.

The lockdown helped these kids in their cancer battle

Lockdowns, social distancing and strict hygiene orders have not been fun - but it meant everyone got a taste of what it's like when you've got a child living with cancer.

Still, while watching your child battle through cancer treatment is terrible, the parents said the health restrictions of 2020 have actually been helpful.

And the good news is, after a very tough year, they can relax and plan for a cancer-free Christmas.

Four-year-old Harry Bruty was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) late last year and required four intense rounds of chemotherapy that kills cancer cells - but also wipes out the immune system.

Harry Bruty at the Sydney Children’s Hospital.
Harry Bruty at the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

Even everyday bugs can be lethal for cancer kids with compromised immune systems.

So March's lockdown was viewed as a bit of a godsend by his mum Mel Archer.

"Lockdown in a way wasn't as difficult because we had been living like that six months prior," said the mother of two from Bondi.

"We were already in the groove of: 'Don't touch things, can't go to the playground, wash hands, sanitise, don't take the kids to the shopping centre' - we were already doing that.

Mel Archer with Harry, 4, who survived leukaemia and is back home looking forward to a cancer free Xmas. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Mel Archer with Harry, 4, who survived leukaemia and is back home looking forward to a cancer free Xmas. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

"Harry was immune-compromised when the pandemic hit and so knowing everyone was doing that it was: 'OK good, everyone is on the same page now'. It was reassuring, even now, people are still doing the right thing, which is great.

"We just made sure there was more love, more laughter because that is all we can do as parents. All we could do was make this horrible, arduous journey as fun and enjoyable as possible."

Her "ward friend" Chrissie Fitzpatrick, whose three-year-old daughter Zara was enduring the same treatment for AML at the Sydney Children's Hospital this year, agreed.

Zara Fitzpatrick, 3, pictured with her mum Chrissie and dad Ryan at Leumeah. Zara has survived cancer and is looking forward to having a healthy Christmas at home. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Zara Fitzpatrick, 3, pictured with her mum Chrissie and dad Ryan at Leumeah. Zara has survived cancer and is looking forward to having a healthy Christmas at home. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

"We could not risk her catching anything. It (the lockdown) worked out well," Mrs Fitzpatrick said.

"Until you have a child go through this, you don't think about how easily they pick up things. It was a long, tough journey."

Neither child caught as much as a cold, which made the gruelling treatment a bit more bearable.

Zara Fitzpatrick (middle) pictured with her mum Chrissie and dad Ryan and siblings Rory (left) and Sophie (right) at home in Leumeah. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Zara Fitzpatrick (middle) pictured with her mum Chrissie and dad Ryan and siblings Rory (left) and Sophie (right) at home in Leumeah. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

With their treatment behind them and in remission from cancer, both kids are looking forward to the happiest of Christmas Days - a stark difference to the last one, when they were at the beginning of their battle.

Harry Bruty and his mum Mel Archer will have a joyous Christmas after surviving leukaemia. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Harry Bruty and his mum Mel Archer will have a joyous Christmas after surviving leukaemia. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

"Last year, Zara had just been diagnosed, so she was really sick," Mrs Fitzpatrick said.

"This Christmas we will have lunch and then go down the beach and the kids can go in the ocean - last year Harry had to stay at home and not mingle but, this year, he is raring to go at the beach," Ms Archer said.

 

SILVER LINING IN CLOUD OF COVID-19

 

COVID-19 may have infected more than 28,000 Australians and killed 908 but the silver lining is the remarkable impact handwashing and social distancing have had on reducing other communicable diseases.

Health experts are now urging we hang on to the new social and hygiene norms to reduce annual rates of a range of infections.

Cases of influenza are 14 times less than last year, 21,292 cases compared to 313,465.

Infection prevention and control expert ­Marylouise McLaws from the University of NSW said closing Australia's international borders in March along with quarantine played a role, as well as high levels of flu vaccination.

"We often get flu from bird migration but one thing that does bring it in is human migration bringing in the northern hemisphere influenza," Prof McLaws said.

And, because influenza leaves patients more susceptible to meningococcal disease due to respiratory tract damage, meningococcal cases are also down by 38 per cent with only 86 cases recorded this year compared to 207 in 2019.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is down two-thirds from 12,024 cases to 3421.

Rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea in children, has affected only a quarter of children compared to last year - 1473 to 6177 last year.

"Let's not walk away from the new social norms or the new hygiene norms ... and stay at home if you are unwell," Prof McLaws said.

"We also need a new behavioural norm that, if you have a cough or runny nose, you don't soldier on.

"What really needs to not come back is sharing your miserable cold and running nose and you need to say: 'I can't come to dinner tonight, I have some cold symptoms'.

"That should be the new 'I'm responsible and caring'.

"I do think it is an ­opportunity to educate the population about how important this is for people who have cancer and who are immune-compromised for people to be thoughtful."

- Jane Hansen

 

 

Originally published as How the lockdown helped these kids in their cancer battle


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