The family of a single mother and her 10-year-old daughter are rallying behind them after both were diagnosed with cancer just weeks apart, throwing their world into a spin.
Keira, 10, was told she had brain cancer in November after experiencing a rapid decline in her movement — including her ability to walk — and in the same week, her mum Rhani Neville, 47, found a lump on her breast sparking concern for her own health.
Putting off her own appointments to prioritise her daughter, who had flown to Sydney from Canberra the night of her diagnosis, Rhani later found out she had breast cancer forcing her into emergency surgery.
By this point, her 10-year-old daughter had already undergone two major surgeries of her own to remove the tumour that had been growing on her brain. She'd also been through five rounds of chemotherapy, her cousin told Yahoo News Australia.
Mother and daughter struggle with cancer treatment
While surgery to remove the cancer was successful for Rhani, the mum-of-one was told it had spread to her lymph nodes throwing her into radiation and chemotherapy, while the treatment for her daughter has so far been unable to slow down the disease.
"She has a really intensive chemo program and then she'll go into radiation right after," 22-year-old Aisling Doyle said of her mum's sister, Rhani. Aisling, the cousin of Keira and niece of Rhani, said it's been "really hard" on the pair, adding that family members have been travelling to and from Sydney to help.
Girl's hidden cancer had been 'progressing' for years
While Rhani's diagnosis was a little more straightforward, with a biopsy confirming the cancer, Kiera's was much less so. Aisling said her cousin's disease went unnoticed for some time with symptoms only becoming obvious not long before the diagnosis.
"She's just a very strong kid. She'll never really complain a lot," she said. "We actually noticed that her movement was changing, so the right side of her body became really weak and how she was walking changed a bit".
Aisling said it had "definitely been progressing over a few years" but it was very subtle until about six weeks before diagnosis when it had "gotten quite obvious".
Because the 10-year-old "was not in pain", her cousin claims the GP refused to test further. Thankfully, another doctor took the chance and referred her to a specialist in Canberra where they live.
Mother remains positive despite condition declining
Since then, the mother and daughter have been flying back and forth to Sydney so they can both receive treatment and while Kiera has improved by 50 per cent — thanks to a trial treatment called Firefly — her mother's condition has declined.
Before starting Firefly, Keira was in a bad state, becoming "almost nonverbal" and "pulling her hair a lot". Her cousin said she "couldn't really string a sentence together" and was scratching her legs until they bled".
"I think that was kind of an indicator of how stressed she was, but they're both absolute troopers," Aisling said. "My aunty has always been really positive and optimistic and funny, but then we would have those really hard days where she'd be really stressed". Especially when it came to her daughter.
"If you Google anything about brain stem glioma, it looks horrible and it looks like the outcome is really bleak. She thought she could lose Keira," the 22-year-old explained.
Desperate plea to help sick mother and daughter
Now, the 10-year-old is on the road to recovery but still remains in a wheelchair. She has weakness in the right side of her body and has become completely left-handed.
Aisling and her mum have stepped in to help them both with other family members also willing to come "at the drop of a hat". The extended family are hoping to raise money for Rhani since she's unable to work, making single parenthood immeasurably harder.
"This last 4 months she has had to deal with the news of Keira's diagnosis, whilst also managing the challenges of her own illness," Aisling wrote on a GoFundMe page she started. "Rhani has not been able to work during the time she has been in Sydney and as she is now commencing chemotherapy, she is unable to return to her job."
Rhani will lose her hair as a result of the chemotherapy, so Aisling and her mum have elected to both shave our hair with her in support. Keira's hair is also turning white from treatment.
"Chemo is horrendous and radiation is even worse. So Rhani is quite poorly," Aisling said. "But we won't know her condition until her next scan".
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