WHEN Yambuk girl Milly Graham turns eight on Monday, the celebrations will have a little extra zing.
Milly’s family is planning a carnival-themed party to mark not only another birthday, but also the latest milestone in her battle with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
After 28 months of intensive treatment to meet the disease head on, Milly has been able to finish her chemotherapy, with the lights shining brightly on the road to her recovery.
Milly and her family will have to make the trip to her doctors in Melbourne each month for the next two-and-a-half years but it will be for monitoring rather than the chemotherapy she has had to endure.
And while the doctors do not give guarantees, there is a great feeling of hope for Milly and her mum Kerrie, dad Andrew, brothers Tom, 9, and Sam, 5.
Last week a special Mass was held in the St Patrick’s Port Fairy Primary School Hall to mark the end of Milly’s treatment.
Now in grade two, Milly has had to endure the illness for all but a couple of months of her school life.
It was in the days leading up to May 19, 2011, that the first signs of illness began to appear.
A nurse by profession, Kerrie noticed Milly had been running a fever and was lacking energy so she booked her in for a doctor’s appointment.
“I just thought she wasn’t right,” Kerrie said of her decision to seek medical advice.
The nurse side of Kerrie came out when she asked the doctor to run some blood tests just to be sure everything was normal, and while she knew Milly was not herself, the news she was to receive came as a huge shock to her and the family.
“The doctor rang the next morning with the results of the blood tests and said they were waiting for us at the children’s hospital in Melbourne and to just chuck some clothes into a bag and get down there straight away,” Kerrie said.
Doctors in Melbourne then carried out some bone marrow testing to determine the type of leukaemia Milly had.
It was established she had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
“The next step was to stay there for a month and undergo treatment and then get tested again and see how she had responded to the treatment,” Kerrie said.
“They grade your risk from those tests and Milly was considered high risk, so she had to have the extra-intense treatment.”
Milly’s initial Melbourne hospital stay lasted 60 days, where she was isolated in a room.
Andrew and the boys stayed in Melbourne for the first part of the treatment, before returning to Yambuk.
It was to keep some normality for the boys, with the trio returning regularly on weekends.
Kerrie stayed by Milly’s bedside as her little body fought with everything it had to get through those toughest of times.
There were some serious complications along the way, with blood clots forming on Milly’s brain. She also suffered a small stroke.
At one stage in her treatment she was so sick that she did not leave her hospital room for four weeks, a period of isolation that Kerrie admits was a testing time for all.
But the young girl from Yambuk was turning out to be a fighter, bravely getting through that first 60 days and then the regular trips to Melbourne for chemotherapy treatments that came after it.
It was a fighting spirit that imbued her father Andrew with an admiration for his daughter that is plain to see and hear when he talks about her battle.
“She’s been great through it all and it’s great to see her happy and healthy and all her hair grown back,” Andrew said.
“It’s been tough but she has kept smiling and that has helped everyone do what we needed to.”