Cancer symptoms lead to T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia diagnosis for Nowra boy

Sallie will never forget the moment her “smart and fun” five-year-old boy turned to her and asked, “Mum, am I going to die?”

Those six words sent chills through her as she sat in Harvey’s Sydney hospital room.

Harvey started to lose his spark in 2021 when the “hyperactive” youngster suddenly became lethargic.

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“The moment I knew it was bad was when he said, ‘It hurts when I breathe’,” Sallie told

Doctors originally treated him for bronchitis but further testing revealed a cause Sallie never saw coming — cancer.

Harvey was diagnosed with high-risk T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a rare form of aggressive blood cancer.

“I was lost for words,” Sallie said.

“I was so shocked. I never in a million years thought that was it.”

A new ‘normal’

Harvey had been an otherwise healthy child until cancer changed everything.

“It just comes out of nowhere,” Sallie said.

“You’re living your normal life until you’re not.”

Scans showed Harvey’s heart had been pushed to the right side of his body, his left lung had completely collapsed and there was a build-up of fluid and cancer cells collected between his chest wall and lung.

With mum at his side, Harvey was flown from Nowra to Sydney, marking the start of an exhausting two years of treatment.

Nowra boy Harvey, now 8, was diagnosed with high-risk T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at five years old. Credit: Supplied

Sallie had to leave behind one-year-old Amelia with family and was limited to one visit a week.

“I’d never been away from her, so even just me being gone for a few hours … she was so upset,” she said.

“That was really hard.”

Adding to the stress, Sallie was in her first trimester of pregnancy with her third child, Archie.

“I pretty much ignored the pregnancy,” she said.

“You just have to do what you have to do to get through.”

Treatment was tough, as Harvey spent more than 400 nights away from home.

But things took a heartbreaking turn when his best friend Blake, who had been undergoing treatment next door to Harvey on the ward for six months, died.

“I think Blake dying was really hard on him because they were both the high-risk kids,” Sallie said.

“He’s a pretty smart kid so he just knew how it was straight away.

“No one had ever mentioned anything about death or dying, but he just said, ‘Mum, am I going to die?’.”

Sallie says Harvey had a ‘wild’ and excitable attitude in hospital. Credit: Supplied

Finding the good

Harvey found comfort in community, with the Starlight Foundation captains providing laughter on his darkest days.

The foundation helped bring fun back to Harvey’s life in hospital, Sallie said.

“It gave my kids a smile when nothing would make them smile,” Sallie said.

“Another great thing was they’ll acknowledge the siblings who often just get put on the back-burner when another kid is sick.

“For (Amelia) to go, ‘Wow, you’ve seen me. This is not about the sick kid all the time’, it was really important.”

Harvey was separated from his little sister Amelia while undergoing treatment in Sydney. Credit: Supplied

Back at home, eight-year-old Harvey is back to his fun-loving self and embracing the joy in the mundane.

“It’s so good, even the little things,” Sallie said.

“I took him to the bike track one day and he was learning to ride a bike again and I was just so proud.

“And then I saw this two-year-old, who was also the same level of just riding along and thought, ‘Those parents must be so proud, too’.”

Harvey’s family are sharing their story in support of Starlight’s Super Swim Challenge, which kicks off in February and aims to raise $7 million to help brighten the lives of 180,000 sick kids. Register here.






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