Six week cancer intervention for local baby in Brisbane

Cancer journey: Deborah Lavender and Mahalia enjoy a respite from treatment at their home in Ashford. Photo Heidi Gibson
Cancer journey: Deborah Lavender and Mahalia enjoy a respite from treatment at their home in Ashford. Photo Heidi Gibson

“It was the longest day of my life,” Ashford single mum Deb Lavender said of the day, just a few weeks ago, that her 15 month old daughter, Mahalia, went in for brain surgery. 

That was Saturday.

Three days before the family’s life had been normal. Mahalia played happily at day care, came home to her brother Ford, 4, and sister Elizabeth,5, had dinner, a game with the cats and was tucked up in bed.

But on Thursday everything changed. 

“She couldn’t move her left arm and couldn’t walk,” Ms Lavender said. “We got her to a doctor in Texas and he sent for a helicopter to take us to Brisbane.”

At 2am, after spending hours in Emergency at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, they were transferred to their own room. The results of an MRI scan at 9.15 the next morning brought a young doctor to their bedside. 

“I’m sorry we’ve got bad news,” Ms Lavender remembers the woman saying. “She’s got a tumor about the size of a plum.”

Mahalia was taken for immediate neurosurgery and so began her mother’s longest day. 

“I was devastated. I just broke down. Horrible thoughts were going through my head.” 

But by 4pm the news was good. 

“They were pretty confident they got it. They took out about 80 to 90 percent. Her head was all bandaged up and there were tubes hanging out [but] she used her left arm to lift her bottle. Taking the tumor out had taken pressure off her brain straight away,” Ms Lavender said. 

After nine days they returned home but the pair must leave again on July 18. Although no cancer cells were found Mahalia’s spinal fluid, she still has to undergo six weeks of radiation treatment – 30 sessions in all with a decision yet to be made about whether chemotherapy will also be required. 

“I’ve got so much to try and learn,” Ms Lavender said explaining that not much is known about this type of slow growing but aggressive tumor called an ependymoma. “I’ve read the brochure they gave me, [and] tried Googling it [but] there’s not much information out there.”

Connecting to a support group via a closed Facebook site has helped lesson the sense of isolation for Ms Lavender and the hospital is organising more contacts including another mother whose child is currently undergoing treatment for the same cancer. 

Speaking about Elizabeth and Ford, Ms Lavender said the next six weeks “is going to be hard for them”. Friends and grandparents in Ashford will be helping with their care. 

“We don’t know what’s ahead of us,” she said. 

People wanting to stay in touch with Mahalia’s progress, can access updates on Ms Lavender’s Facebook page (search for Facebook for Deborah Lavender).