Canterbury mothers set up charity to help fund child cancer research
Roxana Halstead watched her 5-year-old son Eddie die from cancer, now she wants to make sure other parents don't share her anguish.
Halstead has joined forces with three Canterbury mums whose children have battled cancer – Simone Weaver, Anne O'Connor and Nicole Parry – to launch a charity dedicated to fighting child cancers.
The quartet met in the waiting room of Christchurch Hospital's Children's Haematology Oncology Centre (CHOC).
They have launched REACH (Research, Education and Awareness of Child Cancer and Hematology) after deciding more study was needed into new treatments for child cancer.
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Eddie Halstead-Stevens died from stage four neuroblastoma on November 11, 2015, 10 days after his 5th birthday.
"You hear people say 'he lost his battle'," Roxana Halstead said. "For me, he lost his life and the battle still goes on because all the other children are still battling. The fight has got stronger and we're in it for the long term."
Simone Weaver, whose 19-month-old son, Harley, is in remission, said the group "wanted to make a difference".
"We looked into it and found there was just about no child cancer research in New Zealand, so as friends, we said 'let's do something'."
Annie O'Connor, whose daughter Charlotte Moriarty, 5, is in remission, said the charity would raise money for clinical studies testing the use of new technology to better monitor and treat child cancers.
They hoped their charity would help establish New Zealand as a child cancer leader.
"We've all been there," she said. "We've all had the headaches. We've had the worries. We've all lived it . . . and we have a belief in the same thing."
O'Connor said her "heart just breaks" when she heard about families who faced difficult treatments for their cancer-stricken children.
REACH also stood for Remember Eddie, Aaliyah, Charlotte and Harley, who were each a "massive driving force" behind the women's work.
Parry's 18-month-old daughter, Aaliyah-Rose Waho, is still undergoing treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer a fortnight after her birth.
Halstead said the group knew there was no quick answer to child cancer.
Child cancer is not going to be solved next week. The way I see it, if we make some difference now, which will maybe make a difference in 20, 50 years, at least we've made that step to make a difference. If no-one makes a step, nothing gets done."
REACH backed a three-year clinical study into new technology to monitor child cancer.
Led by Professor Parry Guilford at the Cancer Genetics Laboratory, Otago University, the study would monitor child cancer treatments with technology known as circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).
Guilford said by following ctDNA levels in patients undergoing chemotherapy, doctors would be able to assess how effective the treatment was in one to two weeks.
Treatment that was not working could be abandoned and replaced sooner.
Currently, tumours were monitored with CT scans, with the first assessment done 10 to 12 weeks after treatment started.
Another aim of the study was to use ctDNA to better determine the most effective treatments to use, Guildford said.
"By looking at the DNA patterns . . . we can see the type of disease there and the type of mutations it carries . . . and that will help us to choose which drugs will be more effective for the next round of treatment, but that's further down the line."
With the help of the REACH, Guildford said the research group was able to incorporate paediatric cancers in a larger study.
He hoped the new technology would be available for child cancer patients within five years.
Donations can be made at Reach Child Cancer – Be Bold or Be Bald