TWELVE months after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, young Grace Howard is back on the netball court and loving it.
The bubbly 11-year-old has also returned to school full-time and spends her spare time fussing over her new puppy, a fast-growing St Bernard named Flossy.
And even though she still has to endure chemotherapy treatment for a week each month, Grace says she just wants to enjoy a “normal life”.
Her positive outlook is an inspiration for her parents Vanessa and Dean and brothers, 12-year-old twins Andy and Jake and Isaac, 7.
“Grace has become very robust and nothing keeps her down,” Mrs Howard said yesterday. “Grace keeps us going, seeing her smile and laugh is all we need.”
The Howards don’t look at the cancer diagnosis as a “why us” situation.
“We have been dealt a hand of cards and we play them as they are dealt,” she said.
“We see it as a positive Grace having cancer.
“Although our strength as a family has been tested, and we’re still dealing with daily difficulties, it has given Grace, Andy, Jake and Isaac many opportunities that they would never have been able to experience — a trip to Disneyland, camps, meeting famous people, going to concerts, soccer games, footy matches, travelling and, most of all, meeting many fantastic people.”
The Cobden family spent weeks in Melbourne last year when Grace went through a six-hour operation to remove 40 to 50 per cent of a nine-centimetre tumour growing on the left side of her brain.
Radiation and chemotherapy treatment followed and the remaining section has now shrunk and is no longer growing.
In further good news, a five-millimetre spot discovered on the right side of her brain has also started to calcify.
She hopes to finish chemotherapy in July, just in time for the family’s holiday to California where Grace will celebrate her 12th birthday on August 16.
The trip was granted by the Make a Wish Foundation during a gala ball in Portland earlier this year attended by Collingwood footballers.
Mrs Howard said her children were excited about the holiday. “They’ve never been on an aeroplane and they’ve never even been out of Victoria,” she said. “It’s the trip of a lifetime.”
Doctors have agreed to remove Grace’s nasogastric tube — used to deliver drugs directly to her stomach — before they leave.
“We just want to go carefree,” Mrs Howard said.
The Howards are overwhelmed by the help they have received from groups, individuals and anonymous donors in the last 12 months and say they want to thank everyone.
The St Bernard was organised by the BMD crew working on the dual lane road construction project between Geelong and Winchelsea.
They noticed Make a Wish fund-raising walkers pass by the site and wanted to help.
After hearing that Grace had always wanted a puppy, they raised the money and, when the breeder agreed to donate the dog, they told the Howards to use it as spending money for her trip.
Mrs Howard also made particular mention of Cobden’s Blake family, Vixens netballer Sarah Wall and organisers of a charity day in Cobden who have supported them.
“A special thanks needs to go to Grace’s aunty and uncle, Mel and Brendan Anderson in Melton, who have unconditionally opened their hearts and especially their home to us without question,” she said.
The family recently joined in the special candlelight ceremony at this year’s Relay for Life event in Terang where Grace wrote a moving poem called “I’m Fighting Cancer” that was read to a silent crowd.
Grace has now put her own hand up to help the fight against cancer, organising a team at next year’s Corangamite Relay for Life.
She has already planned a casual day at Cobden Primary School and a car rally on Sunday, May 20, starting at the town’s recreation reserve from 9.30am.