Real Life

Twice Unlucky

Cancer struck our family twice
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Emma Eltringham, 33, Perth, WA, tells Natasha Todd, from Take 5, her heartbreaking story

I looked down at my six-month-old daughter, Ruby, cradled in my arms, and frowned.

“Does she look pale to you?” I asked my husband, Joel, 36.

“A bit,” he agreed.

Ruby was olive-skinned, so it was noticeable.

When her colour hadn’t come back after a couple of days, we took her to the hospital. A blood test revealed her red blood count was low.

“She’ll need a blood transfusion,” the doctor told us.

I was stunned. “Why? What’s wrong with her?” I asked, tearing up.

“We need to do some tests to be sure,” he replied.

Then I mentioned a bruise the size of a matchstick head that I’d noticed on Ruby’s back.

He thought it was probably nothing, but ordered a biopsy, to be on the safe side.

Joel and I were taken to a private room to hear the results.

“I’m afraid Ruby is in the pre-stages of leukaemia,” the doctor said.

Fear gripped me.

“What do you mean by pre-stages?” I asked.

“It hasn’t fully developed yet, but we can’t treat her until it has,” he said.

It meant we were sent home to wait for her to get cancer. It was excruciating.

Ruby during her treatment

In February 2014, Ruby was officially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. She was nine months old.

Her treatment was four rounds of a four-week course of intensive chemo, with a week at home between each one.

At hospital, we had to stay in a high-pressured airtight room, which we weren’t able to leave often.

During this time, our two-year-old son Chayse stayed with my mum, Ann.

Time seemed to stand still, but at the other end, there was good news.

“Ruby’s cancer-free,” the doctor announced.

“Thank god,” I said, bursting into tears.

Ruby was monitored every month for a year.

Each time her results came back clear, I allowed myself to hope a little more that our nightmare was behind us.

Ruby was so brave

But when Ruby was two, I noticed she was holding her neck strangely, as if her head was too heavy.

She also had a tremor in her hand.

Worried, I took her back to oncology.

“Something isn’t right,” I told the oncologist.

She assured me Ruby’s blood levels were fine but when she started vomiting five days later, I took her to emergency.

“I’m afraid Ruby has relapsed,” a doctor said after tests.

The cancer had returned in her brain.

“I don’t want her to go through this again,” I sobbed to Joel.

She had another two rounds of chemo, which exhausted her.

And when her beautiful locks started falling out, she got upset.

“I want my hair back, Mummy,” she wept, breaking my heart.

“It’ll grow back, sweetheart,” I promised.

After treatment, Ruby needed a bone marrow transplant.

When Chayse wasn’t compatible, doctors found a near-perfect match overseas.

Thankfully, it went well and Ruby was confirmed cancer-free again

Joel and me with Chayse and Ruby

I hoped our troubles were over and in 2017, we had another daughter, Evie, bringing our family even closer.

and I bought a house, and our lives were finally getting back to normal.

Then, in 2022, I hired a personal trainer and felt the fittest I’d ever been.

But suddenly, I hit a wall.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to shift any weight.

“I don’t understand,” I moaned to my PT.

Looking in the mirror one day, I noticed my skin had a yellowish tint to it.

That’s strange, I thought, but I brushed it off.

Days later, I went to visit my parents.

“What have you done to your face?” Mum asked, as she greeted me. “Have you had filler in your cheeks?”

“No,” I said, frowning.

“Oh, your face looks a bit puffy,” she said.

I began noticing it myself and when I started gaining weight, I went to the doctor.

Tests showed my liver levels were slightly elevated.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” he assured me.

My brave girl Is my inspiration

But over the next couple of weeks, my face grew puffier and one morning, I woke up feeling like I’d lost all muscle tone in my stomach.

“I look like I’ve just

had a baby,” I said to Joel, lifting my top.

Scans showed I had lesions on my liver, so I was sent for a biopsy.

Joel and my mum came with me to hear my results.

We’d barely got through the door before the doctor blurted it out.

“You have stage four pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer,” he said, explaining it had spread to my liver.

My whole body went numb.

“Our family can’t go through this again,” I cried.

First Ruby and now me. It seemed so unfair. I was then delivered the next blow.

“Your cancer is treatable, but not curable,” the doctor said.

It felt like he’d ripped the whole world from under my feet.

They’ve been through enough

“We’ll fight this,” Joel said, squeezing my hand reassuringly.

I was started on chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but doctors won’t operate to remove the cancer, saying it’s too risky.

So I’ve started looking at treatment overseas instead.

It will be costly, but if it means extra time with my children, it’s worth it.

They’ve already been through enough, especially our Ruby.

Fortunately, she’s now seven years clear, but she still needs her mum.

Although we haven’t yet told them the extent of it, they know I’m not well.

For now, we’re clinging on to hope that something can be done, allowing me to watch my babies grow.

Click here towards Emma’s treatment

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