Words: Brigid O’Connell
Photo: Alex Coppel
It took nine months of riding a merry-go-round of recurrent sickness and visits to doctors before the sinister secret growing at the back of Ayla Topcubasi’s brain was finally revealed.
Regular ear infections and soaring temperatures that dominated the first half of last year for Ayla were put down to the most obvious culprit – starting at childcare.
In the six months since her brain tumour was discovered, the two and a half year old has undergone two brain surgeries, 30 doses of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy.
Each time a test or procedure is performed, The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) staff first carry it out on her best friend, stuffed toy Puppy.
“It’s like they’re sharing what they’re going through together,” mum Meltem Kirca said.
“Even with her little language, she knows why she’s in hospital. We talk through everything as we go.”
By September, after yet another course of antibiotics had not worked, Ms Kirca took her daughter straight to the RCH emergency department.
The doctor asked Ms Kirca if her daughter could look into the light. Ayla could not. This was a vital clue. Something serious was going on.
Over the next two days, Ayla passed every test doctors put her through.
But when a nasal gastric feeding tube could not help her keep nutrients down, she was taken for an MRI scan.
The scan found a tumour, an ependymoma, growing at the base of her brain.
It was blocking the cerebral spinal fluid – the clear liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord – from leaving her skull.
“I was in shock, I couldn’t even move. That day was the worst day in my life,” Ms Kirca said.
Ayla was wheeled straight into theatre for emergency surgery to drain the fluid building up in her brain.
Two days later, neurosurgeon Wirginia Maixner performed a nine-hour operation to remove the 3cm tumour.
With one round of chemotherapy to go, Ms Kirca said she had “big hopes” for her youngest daughter.
“The doctors are telling us that it’s looking very good,” she said.
“I just don’t want this to come back to her again. If you’ve got health, you don’t need anything else.”
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