A young mother has opened up on the earth-shattering moment she was told her three-year-old daughter had cancer – and the devastating toll it took on the toddler’s twin sister.
Brisbane mum Cassandra Ebenstreit found a lump on her daughter Rosie’s neck while she was happily playing on the trampoline with her identical twin Lily in May this year.
Two weeks later Rosie was terrified and clinging to her mother in an isolated wing of a Brisbane hospital moments after she was diagnosed with stage three cancer.
Lily was left bewildered and depressed at the sudden disappearance of her best friend.
Faced with a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, an abrupt move from the Gold Coast to Brisbane and a ban on seeing each other due to the pandemic, the twins found themselves apart for the first time.
Lily, left, and Rosie, right were inseparable until Rosie got cancer and had to go to hospital
Pictured here with their mum Cassandra, the children show how brave they were during the rounds of chemotherapy
Their mum Cassandra spoke to Daily Mail Australia about the devastating diagnosis, which changed the course of the family’s life.
‘She was a perfectly healthy, happy little girl, you would never have thought anything was wrong,’ she said.
‘Then one day after she had been bouncing on the trampoline I felt a lump on her neck and we rushed her to hospital.
‘She was sent home, but over the next two weeks she got really sick, she had fevers 24-hours a day, then abdominal pain and vomiting. She became unwell very fast.’
Doctors initially thought the little girl had an infection and she had a string of tests that resulted in a diagnoses of stage three, anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Lily, right, was not allowed in to see Rosie as an in-patient, but they are pictured together here during one of the many weekly visits as an out-patient where blood samples were taken
The now four-year-old girls keep each other busy, Rosie has become stronger quicker than expected because she is trying to keep up with her other half
ABOUT ANAPLASTIC LARGE CELL LYMPHOMA
WHAT IS IT?
According to the Leukaemia Foundation it is a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is made up of either malignant T-cells (type of cells in the immune system), or ‘Null-lymphocytes’ (lack both B or T-cell markers).
Systemic ALCL is treated with standard chemotherapy. Other therapies include radiotherapy, stem cell transplants and steroid therapy.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Swelling in the neck, armpit, groin or where your legs meet your body.
Fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, night sweats, shortness of breath, dry cough, difficulty recovering from infections and weight loss.
With cutaneous ALCL, you may first notice one or more raised, red bumps on the skin that don’t go away. These are tumours. They can form open sores, and they may itch.
She was diagnosed in May, and spent her fourth birthday going through her first round of chemotherapy.
The only time her twin sister was allowed to visit her when she was an in-patient in hospital because of strict Covid-19 measures.
‘It was really tough, Rosie was terrified by the time we got to Brisbane because she had been through so many tests and procedures, the staff worked really hard to get her used to the idea. She just cried all day,’ the mother said.
Dad George, pictured, spent most of his time looking after Lily while Rosie, pictured, was in hospital – due to strict Covid-19 rules
The girls, pictured here as pirates, are happy children generally, their mum said
Cassandra stayed with her sick daughter, while her husband George remained at home with Lily.
‘Lily was so upset, she got separated from me and her sister and she missed us. Her dad just had to try to distract her with fun things to cheer her up,’ Cassandra said.
Cassandra was needed at the hospital during the gruelling rounds of chemotherapy – and would only get ‘an hour or two’ during the whole six-day session to see her other ‘baby’.
Rosie had six admissions for chemo, five for fevers and two because of aggressive ulcers which left her unable to eat.
Rosie, pictured with her sister, still needs tests every six weeks, but is currently cancer-free and back at home
The family have just returned home to the Gold Coast, after a six-week post-chemo scan revealed Rosie is cancer free.
Playing on the beach, competing and giggling like nothing had happened – the little girls appear happy to be back home – and their strong bond is credited for helping Rosie thrive.
‘She is a pretty happy little kid, it was super hard but she has done an amazing job. Kids are so strong and resilient,’ their doting mum said.
Cassandra says it is easy to see when she is doing well, what she is struggling with and how she is thriving – because she comes with a ready-made comparison in her twin sister.
The girls are living back on the Gold Coast, where they have started to get back into routine including morning visits to the beach
‘Having her here makes Rosie work harder, it is making her get back her strength and coordination quickly because she sees what her sister can do and is always playing with her,’ Cassandra said.
Now the family is working on getting back to normal, surrounded by their support network in their home on the Gold Coast.
‘At first the kids were confused, asking when we were going to go to the hospital next, it took them a while to realise we were staying home.’
The shock cancer diagnosis evoked painful memories for Cassandra, who lost her brother to melanoma when she was 24.
They will be celebrating Christmas at home – with the closest family after a huge year
‘When I first got to the hospital sad memories of my brother flooded back,’ she said.
‘But then I felt comforted that Rosie had options and was reminded the survival rate was 70 per cent. My brother didn’t have options, so when we were in hospital with him it was to watch him die,’ she said.
The family are looking forward to a low key Christmas with their closest loved ones, after a very turbulent year.
Rosie will need to go for checkups every six weeks – and will be monitored until she is 18.
Rosie turned four during her first round of treatment, she is pictured here celebrating afterwards