Just when their lives were feeling normal again, a young Piara Waters family have been left reeling after a third cancer diagnosis.
Emma and Joel Eltringham’s world was blown apart when their nine-month-old daughter Ruby was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
After six-months of treatment, juggling hospital shift swaps and a toddler, the family was able to slip back into a life of semi-normality until they were told that Ruby’s cancer had relapsed and she’d need a bone marrow transplant to survive.
“We then didn’t leave the hospital from September to February – so over Christmas. My son wasn’t five yet and wasn’t allowed to come into the hospital. He could only wave from the window,” she said.
Miraculously Ruby won her second battle against leukaemia, and Emma says her family enjoyed a relatively normal life for around six years.
“I had another baby, we bought a new house and were living like a normal family,” she said.
“And I was the fittest I’d ever been.”
It was at that pinnacle, in May last year, that fate dealt its third cruel blow. Emma was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer and initially given six months to live.
Emma’s cancer is a very rare type.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors happen when cells in the pancreas develop changes in their DNA.
There’s no way to prevent it, but there can be signs for early detection, including heartburn, fatigue, muscle cramps, indigestion, diarrhea, weight loss, skin rash, constipation, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches and increased thirst and hunger.
There can be genetic markers. But there weren’t in Emma’s case.
“Both my daughter and I were tested but there were no genetic links at all – in both our cases it was just bad luck,” she said.
“And I had no symptoms except a little heartburn.”
Emma said she went completely numb after the news of her own diagnosis.
“I just didn’t believe it – it was so unfair,” she said.
While she was able to go into ‘mum-mode’ and guide her baby through months of hospital treatment, Emma said she’s struggling with her own plight.
“I don’t have control over this. It all feels so unreal. I move through each day in denial.”
Emma has since gone through four treatments of combined radiation and chemotherapy.
And so far, it is keeping the cancer at bay.
But in Australia, there is no known cure.
Emma currently has to be tested every three months to check if the cancer has progressed – a wait which is anxiety-inducing.
“I have one next week and it’s already hitting me hard,” she said.
There is a gleam of hope for a cure – but it’s experimental, expensive, and overseas.
A friend has set up a fundraising page for the family with the hopes of raising the $150,000 necessary to give Emma her best shot at beating this.
“It would mean the world to me, to know that I’ve given everything a go,” she said.
“I want to be here to see my children grow up. I don’t want to give up. Ruby has been clear for seven years now, but she still needs her mum.”
Anyone wishing to donate to Emma’s treatment costs can do so through this link: https://www.mycause.com.au/p/319156/emmas-fight-against-stage-iv-pnet-cancer