Brave little battler's fierce cancer fight
WHEN two-year-old Gabrielle Bunch came down with sudden cold symptoms and a fever, her parents never feared their little girl would soon be forced into the fight of her life.
After presenting to the Warwick Hospital in February last year, the toddler was taken by helicopter in a critical condition, and after rounds of tests and anxious waiting, the heartbreaking diagnosis was in.
Susan Kajewski and Kurt Bunch were told that rather than the simple virus they initially suspected, Gabrielle's tiny body was battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Their world instantly fell apart.
"It's devastating," Susan said.
"You don't think your child has cancer - you think it's a virus and she will be fine.
"It takes a while to sink in and you don't comprehend it well, you think 'this can't be happening'.
"Then you wake up the next morning and think it must have been a dream and it's okay, but then you realise it's not.
"It's a day that will be etched in our minds forever."
Susan said she and Kurt both struggled immensely with the diagnosis and their parental instincts to keep their daughter safe.
"No one wants their child to be sick and the hard part for us was it's out of your control," she said.
"I think Kurt struggles with it worse than me because it's a dad's job to protect his little girl."
Gabrielle spent three days under sedation in intensive care and a further two weeks in a hospital ward.
When she was discharged, she was not allowed to go home and instead she and her family were moved in to villages run by the Leukaemia Foundation.
"We were provided a unit five minutes from the hospital for five weeks at no expense," Susan said.
"We are so grateful something like this exists for families going through a tough time."
Gabrielle faced two months of intensive treatment and her mum said she braved it like a true trooper.
"She is quite resilient and the oncology nurses will tell you kids have chemo and then they will go and play and they get on with it," Susan said.
"As adults, we have chemo and the next day we lay around and feel sorry for ourselves."
Complicating the ordeal further was the fact Susan was four months pregnant when her daughter was diagnosed.
During the round of intensive treatment, the family welcomed baby Samantha to the world.
Despite being a doting big sister, Gabrielle was reluctant to visit her mum and sister as a result of some anxiety related to hospitals.
But she adores her little sister and Susan said growing their family had many positive effects.
"I think having Samantha was a blessing because it was a good distraction for Gabby and there was someone else to focus on," Susan said.
"They have such a special bond now, they just look at each other and start smiling."
Though Gabrielle is too young to really understand what she is going through, her parents have tried to explain her illness and the after effects in a way she understands.
"She actually says the word leukemia but we say you have bad blood and you need the medicine to make you better," Susan said.
"She was at grandma's pretending to brush her hair and she asked why she doesn't have any hair.
"We said, 'you know that medicine that makes you better, well it makes your hair fall out'.
"She was fine with that , it didn't worry her at all."
After a gruelling 12 months, the family is looking forward to a positive future.
Gabrielle will continue treatment until May next year and it is estimated between 85-95% children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia survive.
"We have our days where you're sick of it and you don't want to do it any more - but you don't have a choice and you have to be strong. One day at a time."
As a way to say thank you to the Leukemia Foundation, Susan will next week colour her hair as part of the World's Greatest Shave.
"The Leukaemia Foundation took care of absolutely everything else in our lives and allowed us to focus on what was important: Gabby and her recovery," she said.
"Their help made such a difference to our battle and I wanted to do something to say thanks in some small way."
To support Susan and Gabby with a donation, visit www.worldsgreatestshave.com, click "sponsor" and search for Susan Kajewski.