Words: Brigid O’Connell, Herald Sun
Photography: David Caird, Herald Sun
With her princess dress and runners on, her beloved doll buckled into its pram, Grace hits the track for her morning walk.
The two-year old is tethered to an IV pole, but that doesn’t slow her down as she cuts laps of The Royal Children’s Hospital oncology ward.
It’s been a daily ritual – when she’s been well enough – to stop and check in on friends across the hall, and finish with a pit stop at the nurses’ station to do some drawing on their paperwork.
Grace’s leukaemia diagnosis five months ago shattered her parents Jessica Mekken and Daniel Antonello in just one day. They started the morning with a toddle they were taking to the GP because of concerns about lots of unusual bruising.
They ended that day cradling Grace at the RCH as she underwent a blood transfusion, the first of what would be countless procedures to quash the cancer cells over-running her little body.
But Ms Mekken said her daughter was inspiring in how she had adapted to her new way of life, stuck largely in a hospital ward.
“Being a toddler, it just becomes their life really quickly, because everything is new for them anyway. This just carried on as the next new thing that we’re doing,” Ms Mekken said.
“She understands each of the procedures. She’ll tell the nurses when they gave to clean her lines. She says, ‘I’m brave, I’m brave’.
“She constantly amazes me with her strength. Going for finger pricks or having her port accesses, she sits there and talks the nurses through it as they do their job.”
Long hospital stays have been extra hard because of COVID restrictions banning visitors and shutting down many of the playtime experiences on the ward.
Slowly these chances for interaction and fun – which social butterfly Grace craves – are resuming, thankfully at a time she is entering the most gruelling phase of her two-year cancer treatment.
“I just wish for a cure for her,” Ms Mekken said.
“I want Grace to look back at this time and know that she was so strong. I’m so proud of her and so grateful for what they’re doing for her.”