From a very young age Billi-Jo Murray was diagnosed with cancer, We talk about her journey and an upcoming fundraiser to send her to swim with dolphins at Sea World!
Billi-Jo was born on 5 Nov 2003. A perfectly healthy baby girl. At 10 months of age, Billi-Jo was diagnosed with cancer – Bilateral Wilms Tumour. She had high blood pressure and was very irritable. She started chemotherapy within the week for an expected 12 months. After 2 months of chemo, the tumours had shrunk enough to remove her left kidney and around 20% of the right one. She then continued treatment weekly for the next 10 months and was in remission. She was in remission for 2.5 years when she relapsed the first time in Feb 2007. After removing more tumours from the remaining kidney, we did 6 months chemo, and scans revealed all were gone.
So, we ceased chemo and assumed remission again, but a follow up scan 6 weeks later revealed yet another relapse, so we resumed chemo and started to plan a stem cell transplant. This involves high dose hormones to make her white cells abnormally high, so that we could go to Sydney and have her cells collected and frozen for when we were ready to transplant them back to her. While in Sydney for the first attempt at stem cell collection, Billi-Jo spiked a fever and we went to emergency at Sydney Children’s Hospital. Her temp went as high as 41.3, which is very, very serious; her blood pressure was dangerously low. She was in a really bad way and after litres of fluid and 2 blood transfusions, she was transferred to children’s intensive care and was literally fighting to stay alive. After 2 days on a drug to regulate her blood pressure, we started to wean her from it, and her blood cultures revealed she had 3 different bacterial infections in her blood. She remained in ICU for another 2 days and was then put in a high Dependency Children’s Ward, before she was allowed back to her nurses and hospital in Newcastle.
After a couple of weeks to fully recover, we would again attempt stem cell collection. I must say, I really don’t know how my baby survived that week. I have never been so scared and so able to stay awake for days on end to just watch her sleep and try to recover for me. She is STRONGER than anyone I have ever met. The transplant took place on 13 July 2009. This involved a very high dose of chemo for 3 days, which depletes the body of every cell and is life threatening for the patient. Once the chemo has taken effect, the cells are given through the form of a blood transfusion. We continuously burnt oils for 2 weeks, because Billi-Jo smelled so bad – which is very common during transplant. She was in complete isolation for 4 weeks on the ward, and then we went back to the unit at Ronald McDonald house and continued isolation for another 4 weeks, before we were allowed home.
Throughout 2009 she was fed through a nasogastric tube, as she would not eat on treatment and was on a lot of supplements. She was down to 17 kg. Sometimes she would go weeks and not eat a thing – only drink water. So she was on the feeding machine 16 hours of the day, as she had to be fed very slowly or she would vomit. Billi-Jo relapsed again on 8 November 2010.
The tumours did not, however, return to the kidney – this time they were in her abdominal cavity; there were three. Her Surgeon Dr Raj Kumar removed the 1.3cm mass, but the other two were too high a risk to remove surgically. So we started more high dose chemo, and she had 2 weeks of radiation on her abdomen – which will have its own side effects later in life for Billi-Jo. As she has limited kidney, it will most likely cause her to go into renal failure in 3 or more years, and she will not grow as she should have. She has very slow recovery from treatment at the moment, as her bone marrow is exhausted due to all the past chemo she has had just after surgery (she is amazing). After another long stay in hospital and Ronny Mac House in Newcastle, we were allowed home for Christmas …YAY!
BUT! Our poor baby was again admitted in Feb 2011 with Peritonitis – an awful infection of her abdomen. This caused more complications, as Billi-Jo had to be put into J1(Isolation Unit) Newcastle for another 4 weeks to recover, so she could have her last bout of high dosage chemo. It took her awhile to start eating, but she got there again! Billi-Jo was given her last dose of chemo a few months ago and did really well getting through this. Although so far all is well, we can only hope and pray that she does not relapse again, as the doctors say her little body will not be able to handle any more treatment.
Well! This is our girl’s story … quite amazing, hey? I must add that in between all this, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom Billi-Jo adores. Billi-Jo Murray is one amazing, strong little cowgirl – one of those kids who has an immense effect on everyone she meets. She is also very selfless. Because of this, we want to give her the world, but it is very hard to do when only one of us can work and I have to care for her as a full-time commitment (not that I would ever have it any other way).
We are all so proud of her … she never ceases to amaze us. All we do now is PRAY! And try to live life as normally as possible. Story contributed by Terri Townsend, Billi-Jo’s mother.
Sharon and Irene are committed to getting this little girl to the Gold Coast for a holiday to swim with the dolphins at Sea World and a trip to see the horses at outback spectacular, so we hope you will attend the function on November 12th. Tickets are $55 per person.
Contact Either Sharon Ward on 0421 407 520 or Joanne Morgan on 0427 226 814
Look forward to seeing you there and your support is appreciated!