Full of joy, life and laughter. This is Lara. The effervescent sister to two younger brothers. Lover of the great outdoors. Ballerina in waiting. The girl with the sparkly dress. Just four years old when everything changed.
Lara had come home from school tired and pale. Four days later she was in tears, saying her legs hurt and she didn’t feel well. By the time her mum, Stacey, got her into the car, Lara’s nose had started bleeding. Her skin was a yellow pallor and Stacey instinctively knew what came next.
‘‘I’m sorry it’s not good news. Your daughter has leukaemia.” Came the words no parent wants to hear.
Stacey recalls how she and her husband, Matt, didn’t hear another word following this diagnosis. Their hearts were shattered into a million pieces. They had to pack their bags and fly their daughter to Sydney from Orange, leaving their two little boys with grandparents in the middle of a pandemic.
“We couldn’t breathe, eat, sleep, or pick up our feet and move that first week” says Stacey. They knew they were in for a long, difficult journey, but they had to get up and be there for their daughter.
Lara and her parents were welcomed into Ronald McDonald House Westmead, where they stayed for nine months. It was nine months of lumbar punctures, bone marrow aspirates, blood and platelet transfusions, intense chemo, feeding tubes, hospitals stays and ICU admissions. Nine months away from Leo and Elijah, Lara’s one and three-year-old brothers.
But it was also nine months of slowing down, taking more photos, cherishing each smile and finding joy in the little moments. Like seeing Lara light up when she met the Wiggles, dressed up as Cinderella or made Christmas gifts for the other families in the House.
It’s this energy and determination that got Lara through a harrowing nine months. It also inspired a staff member to introduce Lara as the ‘Life of the House’ to a new volunteer one morning, which lifted Stacey’s spirits. Moments like these made their time at the House feel normal for Lara and her family.
“This is the place that kept us together” says Stacey. “It’s where other families became our family. Having somewhere to go and people to talk to that were going through the same thing helped so much. We weren’t alone in our grief and we will cherish the friendships we made at Ronald McDonald House forever.”
Now that Lara and her parents are back home, Stacey says Lara is thriving. She has started kindy and Stacey and Matt can’t believe how far their daughter has come. Although they admit they do miss being at “the House that gave us a home”.
It’s a place they will never forget. A place that showed them a daughter that is braver, stronger and more resilient. A little girl who makes the most of every opportunity and does everything with a smile – especially when wearing her favourite sparkly dress.