When I asked mum if I was going to die, she replied, 'No, but it'll be the hardest game of softball you've ever played.'Nikki, childhood cancer survivor
Nikki was a talented athlete and softball player attending a selective sports high school. When she started getting tired, pale and losing weight, her coach assumed it was glandular fever - but a trip to the GP and a blood test uncovered something much more serious. Suddenly, softball was the last thing on her mind.
Too sick to play
Nikki had been feeling ill for some time - she was constantly tired, losing weight and her skin was turning yellow. She was in Melbourne for a softball tournament in 2004 but felt too sick to play.
My coach thought I was a wuss because I kept complaining about feeling sick! He pushed me to keep going.
A trip to the GP
On the way to school one day in the car with her mum, Nikki started gagging, blacking out and struggling to breathe. Her mum, Tanya, took a detour to the family GP.
The doctor suspected glandular fever as a few of Nikki's school friends had it - so he took a blood test.
The call came at 6:00 the following morning. When Nikki & Tanya returned to the clinic, the GP - who had been their family doctor for years - had tears in his eyes as he told them Nikki had leukaemia.
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the commonest childhood cancer. While advances in medical research have increased the survival rate to 9 out of 10, leukaemias still account for the greatest number of cancer-related deaths in children.
I asked mum, 'am I going to die?' She replied, 'No, but it'll be the hardest game of softball you've ever played in your life.'
Nikki went straight to Westmead Hospital for a lumbar puncture and to start treatment - but one week later, she had an allergic reaction to the chemo drugs and her organs started to shut down.
ICU & treatment
Nikki was put into an induced coma in intensive care. When she awoke, she had forgotten how to walk, eat, drink and write. She stayed in hospital for more than three months undergoing gruelling treatment.
When I was re-learning to eat, the doctors gave me small things to nibble - including smarties. To this day if I eat even half a smartie, I feel full for the whole day!
Returning to 'life before'
Nikki returned to school, wheelchair-bound, in year nine. She finished treatment in year 11 and was declared in remission, then completed her HSC via the Pathways program.
Aftermath & side-effects
Now in her 20s, Nikki suffers many side-effects from her treatment including bone deterioration, nerve damage, weak lungs, chronic fatigue and osteoporosis. She gets pneumonia almost every winter.
Childhood cancer and its treatment can lead to long-term health problems in survivors.
Nikki was diagnosed with PTSD and survivor guilt as a result of her treatment ordeal. Today, she is passionate about helping us put a stop to late effects among childhood cancer survivors.
Up to 70% of long-term survivors go on to develop one or more chronic health conditions as a result of having been treated for cancer as children. Our Long-term Follow-Up Project aims to learn more about these long-term effects, and to apply this knowledge to improve the quality of life for survivors.
I can put on some makeup and look OK from the outside, but my insides are ruined.
Nikki's cancer trek
Nikki and her boyfriend are now raising $10,000 for our research by trekking Machu Picchu, Peru in October 2016 in memory of every child who's life has been cut short by cancer.
Nikki as a nurse
Now, Nikki is helping care for children dealing with the effects of cancer as an orthopaedic nurse at Westmead Children's Hospital, the same hospital she was treated at 14 years earlier. Her experience with cancer has shaped who she is as a nurse.
It’s allowed me to build rapport with my patients and families with ease. I know what makes a stay in hospital that little bit easier and do what I can to achieve that for my patients and their loved ones.
Nikki strongly believes raising funds for research will mean that one day childhood cancer is a disease of the past.