Jack Schofield was just "like any other boundary pushing three-year-old".
He loved dolphins, Scooby Doo, playing with his older brother and making cups of tea in the kitchen. The Sydney boy was perfectly "happy" and curious" — until one day, his mother Jaimee Thompson noticed little Jack was walking around with a limp. What happened next would change their lives forever.
"He came home with a limp in April (2023), literally out of nowhere he just started limping, and we couldn't work out where it came from," Jaimee, from Freshwater on Sydney's Northern Beaches, told Yahoo News Australia.
"He got a fever, there were no other symptoms at first really. The doctors thought it was just a virus that he picked up at daycare, so he went through a couple of rounds of antibiotics and that probably went for a couple of weeks. It was leading up to winter — there was a lot going around, he had some X-rays and doctors told us not to worry."
Sydney family's life upended
Jaimee recalled that, one night, she heard Jack "in bed just screaming" but initially thought he was having a nightmare, until he responded "no, I'm hurting mummy". "So I called an ambulance," she said, and "we were in the oncology ward days later".
Just three weeks after Jaimee noticed her son hadn't been walking quite right, the little boy was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that affects the nerve cells.
Up until that point, Jack swam, laughed and played as any other child his age would, but unbeknownst to his family, his nerves cells had failed to mature properly, "resulting in a mandarin-sized tumour growing near his adrenal gland and kidney". It spread to his lymph nodes, bone marrow and bones and "from the top of his beautiful head down to his toes".
Toddler endures intense treatment plan
Over the course of the year Jack endured far more treatments than most people would experience in an entire lifetime. He spent six months in hospital, had eight rounds of chemotherapy, an eight-hour surgery, a bone marrow transplant and a total of 12 rounds of radiation.
Jaimee described her son's "horrible side effects", recalling his loss of fine motor skills, reduced eyesight and he will face infertility later in life. Though, despite this, the proud mum said Jack's "just been amazing" and is a fighter through and through.
"Everybody says that kids are so resilient — but honestly Jack just knuckles down, quietly works through whatever treatment he's got, he's comforted by the fact he knows I'm there with him," she said.
"He loves his music... he's really well within himself, the only thing is that he desperately misses his friends. He hasn't had kids to play with for nearly a year now because the infection risk is too high, that's one thing that does upset him," the mum said, adding even to this day the family are in and out of hospital at least once per week.
Though little Jack has responded well to treatment, with it having "cleared all but a few remaining cancerous cells in his bone marrow" he has a 50 per cent relapse rate. Should that occur, his chances of survival are dramatically decreased to just five per cent.
Hope on the horizon for Jack
Thompson said there is some hope on the horizon however, there are "two amazing drugs" available in America — DFMO, which is FDA approved, and a bivalent vaccine, that have both been proven to reduce the risk of relapse by 25 per cent.
She said that due to the time it takes for the drugs to approved here in Australia, they won't arrive for another two years at least, a time frame that could risk Jack's life.
"Australia has certainly been looking at what they can do to bring it over here," she said. "But I think the reality is to get it here, we're still a couple of years away. Which means Jack and other children like him, will be caught in this effective timing difference. That ultimately, they could die because the drugs are not available in Australia."
A fundraiser page has been set up to support Jaimee and little Jack through his health journey and to get him access to one of the life-saving drugs. "Every single dollar donated gets Jack closer to the drugs he needs, so thank you in advance for anything you are able to give," Jaimee said.
In Australia, neuroblastoma represents the fifth-highest incidence of childhood cancer in the G20, with 40 children diagnosed with the condition across the country per year.
Almost all cases of neuroblastoma happen in infants and children younger than the age of five. Though despite this, treatments are sourced from adult protocols, regardless of the vast differences in paediatric cancer and paediatric care. Childhood cancer receives just 10 per cent of funding from the total cancer spend.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.