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Kaylee’s family says thanks for buying a Big Mac

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She loves dancing, she’s not camera-shy, she sometimes fights with her younger brothers and she is so glad to be back in the classroom after lockdown.

While she sounds like any other ten-year-old girl, Kaylee Hodgson from Salamander Bay has faced just a few more challenges than most.

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February 2019, the bright Soldiers Point Public School Year 5 student has been living with terms like cancer and chemotherapy, radiation and blood counts for almost three years.

To her family, Kaylee is “a superhero”.

“She’s so grateful for the gift of life. She takes nothing for granted. She’s done everything we’ve asked of her as far as treatments go and she’s done it all with a smile on her face,” says mum Alana.

Kaylee’s cancer journey began much like any cold or flu might.

“She seemed so pale one day and had sore legs and was lethargic,” Alana said.

“I remember after looking closer at her, that she looked more yellow than pale so I thought it might be her liver or kidneys. I thought she’d just need some antibiotics.”

Having only moved to Port Stephens from Queensland three weeks earlier, Alana took Kaylee to the closest GP she could find, for advice.

In a move that seemed strange to her at the time, the doctor urged the mother-of-three to take her eldest daughter straight to the John Hunter Hospital.

“We sat waiting for hours in Emergency,” Alana said.

“Looking back at it, cancer is hidden, it’s not like a broken limb or cut, or even asthma.”

Blood tests revealed what every mother fears – Kaylee had leukemia, cancer of the blood tissues, including bone marrow.

She was immediately sent to a ward to begin treatment.

“It was so full on,” Alana said.

Kaylee stayed at the hospital a week before heading home.

She then returned twice a week for chemotherapy.

When doctors hoped she’d reach remission eight months later, unfortunately Kaylee’s body couldn’t reach zero cancer.

More tests revealed she had high-risk leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.

She would need to relocate to Sydney for the procedure.

This was also a time when much of the state was plunged into lockdown due to increased Covid-19 case numbers, including Randwick.

“I can clearly remember driving from Port Stephens to Sydney and not knowing if we’d be taking Kaylee home at the end of it,” Alana said.

“It was such a nerve wracking time.”

Kaylee spent four months in Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, having her body cleaned of any trace of cancerous bone marrow before replacing it with a fresh batch.

Her parents Alana and Ryan had left Kaylee’s younger brothers Nate and Van with their grandparents, to sit by her side for more than 100 days until the news turned positive.

“Thanks to a mum who donated her umbilical cord and kept it frozen ten years ago, Kaylee now has two birthdays,” Alana says.

“She has the day she was born on March 15, 2011 and her transplant day October 2, 2019.”

And it was thanks to the support from Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC), she adds, that the family got through this stressful time. 

“The Ronald McDonald House team were unbelievable,” Alana said.

“Honestly if I ever win the lotto I’ll donate it to these charities, I just can’t thank them enough.

“It became a home away from home and we were able to go there and just switch off for a little bit.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities is an independent charity that helps provide families of seriously ill children a place to stay when their child is in hospital.

Through its learning program it also assists continuing a child’s education while undergoing treatment.

Having only been at her new school for three weeks before her diagnosis, and unable to form any solid relationships with her new peers, the team at RMHC Newcastle, Alana says, became Kaylee’s new friends.

“In particular Dayle Cummings,” Alana told Newcastle Weekly.

“She’s been our saviour. She was determined to help Kaylee keep up with her school work, she sorted things for us when we needed, and she’s been such a great resource for all of us.”

Kaylee was so impressed with her home-away-from-home that she drew the reception area of RMHC Newcastle and entered it in the charity’s annual McHappy Day drawing competition.

Her design was one of four chosen to feature on Big Mac clamshells (packaging) from 20th October to 13th November.

Together with the sale of silly socks, Australians purchasing a Big Mac from the popular takeaway automatically donate $2 to help maintain the 18 Ronald McDonald houses across Australia.

The temporary accommodation assists more than 60,000 families each year.

Since the McHappy Day fundraiser began 30 years ago it has helped raise more than $56 million for Ronald Mcdonald House Charities.

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