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Two brave buddies who have both defied the odds – one diagnosed with cancer aged one and the other born 11 weeks premature – are gearing up for their first day of school together.
Billie Finlayson and Isla Ratnam-Elmore were born at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane in 2017 and are now looking forward to learning and making new friends at Graceville State School in Brisbane’s southwest.
Billie’s mother, Anna Finlayson, said her daughter’s diagnosis with kidney cancer in January 2019 was “the worst day of my life”.
“We presented to the hospital at midnight after finding blood in Billie’s nappy,” Mrs Finlayson, of Chelmer, said.
“Billie was diagnosed with Wilms tumour, which most often affects children under five.
“It changed everything for the foreseeable future at the time. We were lucky to have a huge village of support to get us through, but it was still an extremely difficult time.”
Billie underwent a six-hour surgery to remove her tumour and left kidney, and had a portacath (a device used to draw blood and give treatments) inserted, followed by further surgeries.
“She endured 21 weeks of chemotherapy as well as regular scans and blood tests and plenty of medicines,” Mrs Finlayson said.
“She was considered in remission at the end of that treatment and has been going for regular check-ups ever since.
“My husband Michael and I always hold our breath until we get good news, you can never completely shake the fear of relapse.”
She said Billie’s first day of prep will be the fourth anniversary to the day of her little girl’s first chemotherapy session.
“What a wonderful day for a new beginning! Both Michael and I are fully aware of how lucky we are to have come out the other side and we are thankful every day for the healthy blessing of our brave Billie,” Mrs Finlayson said.
Billie met her once pint-sized friend Isla at the local library aged only a few months old, with their families sharing a special bond.
Isla’s dad, Craig Elmore, said his “miracle baby girl” was a fighter after being born via an emergency caesarean section at just 29 weeks gestation, weighing 1.2kg.
“Isla spent two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mater Mothers’ Hospital – there were times when we thought she might not make it,” Mr Elmore, from Graceville, said.
“We knew nothing about premature babies and are so grateful to the medical, nursing and midwifery team who helped bring Isla safely into this world.”
Three days after Isla was born, Mr Elmore was finally able to hold his fragile daughter.
“I remember her tiny body on my chest and her see-through skin,” Mr Elmore said.
“I look at her now and can’t believe how far she’s come. She loves running, swimming and swinging from the monkey bars – she’s active and strong.”
Mater Director of Neonatology Dr Pita Birch said the survival rate of a baby born at 29 weeks was more than 95 per cent.
He said it was exciting to find out Isla was heading to school following a two-month stay in hospital when she was born.
“From a tiny baby in a humidicrib to an energetic little girl, it’s wonderful to see how far Isla has come,” Dr Birch said.
One in five Queensland babies are born at a Mater Mothers’ hospital and Mr Elmore said his now “healthy and thriving” daughter was a strong-willed girl with a sensitive side who was keen to meet her classmates.
Mrs Finlayson described Billie as a “truly spunky little girl”.
“She has a sensitive side but is a true Taurus with determination and courage that I think is truly impressive, especially for someone of her age,” Mrs Finlayson said.
“I think she will adore school. I do worry a little about her stamina, I think her treatment really took it out of her, but once she overcomes that, she won’t let anything stop her.
“Billie and Isla share a special bond and I think it’s a beautiful way to start their first time at school together.”
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