Feeding the ducks at Warrnambool Botanic Gardens, Alexis Davies looks like any other two year old.
Giggling and playing with mum Kirrily, Lexi is in her element. It is hard to believe that even spending time outside is a novelty for this little girl.
Lexi has been battling Leukaemia for the past six months. Her life is dominated by hospital stays and endless rounds of treatment.
A recent visit home to Warrnambool gave Lexi the chance to experience life as a “normal” child, at least for a few short weeks, before the return to hospital in Melbourne to start the most aggressive treatment she has had to face so far.
“She is now going through ‘delayed intensification’,” mum Kirrily Payne said.
“It’s going to be quite tough this next bit. They have prepared us by saying it’s the hardest stage of the lot.”
Lexi will be an outpatient for the next three-and-a-half months and her immune system will become basically non-existent.
“When she’s at the hospital and not in a treatment room she will have to have face masks on. We’re just confined to our apartment at the Leukeamia Foundation at all times otherwise,” Ms Payne said.
“With her treatment she will be having five different types of chemo in this stage as well as having injections in her stomach and lumbar punctures. They said it’s very common that in these next few months she’ll be admitted to hospitals with temperatures and possible infections as well.”
Lexi was first diagnosed after many visits to the doctor for being unwell. She was flown to Melbourne for more testing and treatment and it was then confirmed she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Recalling the initial diagnosis still puts tears in Ms Payne’s eyes.
“You don’t think it’s going to happen to you, you hear about it happening to people… and then sitting in a room by yourself at 1am getting told your child has cancer… it’s not nice.”
But family and friends have been a constant support, especially Ms Payne’s mum, Gayle, who stays in Melbourne with them during treatment.
“Everyone has been so supportive, it’s been great. Not just the hospital, but we’ve got a Facebook page that we do updates on and strangers have sent us all their thoughts, it’s nice to know how many people actually care, even people that we don’t even know,” Ms Payne said.
An initial fund-raiser received strong backing from the community and a Go Fund Me page also helps support the family.
More support will be on show today for a fund-raising head shave at the Leukaemia Foundation. What started as a Shave For a Cure fund-raiser with a family friends quickly grew once the foundation realised Ms Payne and Gayle were both trained hairdressers and jumped at the chance to use their skills.
As well as being an important fund-raiser, Ms Payne is also looking forward to picking up the scissors again.
“I absolutely miss it,” she said of her work.
“Being away from family has been the hardest part of Lexi’s treatment, and it’s been financially straining. Not being able to work and being separated from family is quite hard.
“But our finances are the last thing I want to worry about at the moment. I want to concentrate on her.”
The toddler is still facing a long road to recovery, but the family is positive that there is a happy ending in sight.
“The next step after this is maintenance. That’s mainly back home and we do treatment every single day for the two years and we have to go to Melbourne once a month for her to have lumber punctures and chemo in her back,” Ms Payne said.
“Hopefully that will be it as long as she stays in remission and she doesn’t get any more negative results to say that the cancer’s back.”
By the time treatment is over, Lexi will be an age when many youngsters are almost heading off for their first day at school.
“She will be in treatment until she is nearly five,” Ms Payne said.
“Even going to kinder and school we’re going to have to be really cautious… because her immune system will get back to normal, but it will take quite a long time and she will be quite prone to getting sick for quite a few years.”
Once treatment is up, the family is looking forward to “getting back to life”.
“I’m looking forward to being able to have a happy child that has a normal life and being able to go outside and not have to worry about getting sick and not having to be in the hospital all of the time – what every child wants to do really, what every family wants to be able to do,” Ms Payne said.
“Getting out and about again will be great too. We’ve made friends with all the other parents in the hospital... It’s really the only social thing we get to do these days – we’re either at the hospital or at the apartment.”
Lexi’s grandmother Gayle said she greatly admired the strength of both her granddaughter and her daughter.
“It’s amazing what she’s been through,” she said of Lexi.
“For what she’s been through she’s still such a happy girl. She loves being out and about.
“I think it hurts her mum and me more watching what she has to go through.”
People can follow Lexi’s progress at Lexi’s Bright Fight on Facebook.
A Go Fund Me campaign – Lexi’s Fight With Leukaemia – has also been set up to help the family cover living expenses during Lexi’s treatment.