Pocket Rocket Matilda’s brave oncology battle
Matilda Hutton-Latham is known for being a cheeky prankster. With her twin brother, Patrick, by her side, the pair are natural-born sidekicks.
So when the four-year-old started limping a month before Christmas, parents Ivan and Belinda thought their sassy daughter was mimicking her dad, who was also hobbling after injuring his leg.
An X-ray showed there was nothing structurally wrong with her leg. A blood test was next. Within an hour, doctors gave her parents an envelope with the results.
The doctors had already phoned The Royal Children’s Hospital. The couple were told the hospital was expecting them. Matilda was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
“We just told her she has a bad germ and it will take a long time to get rid of it,” Mr Hutton-Latham said. “She was a bit scared of the other kids in the oncology unit who had no hair. We’ve just told her she’ll be all right and her hair will grow back thicker and stronger.”
More heartbreaking than the upheaval Matilda’s illness has caused for her family, and the toll the treatment has taken on her little body, is how common this type of cancer is.
The Royal Children’s Hospital sees about 40 children a year with ALL, making it the most common cancer the hospital treats.
These children all face at least two years of treatment, and that’s if things go to plan.
Oncologist Francoise Mechinaud said while the types of chemotherapy they used were decades old, they were now much better at adjusting the dose depending on the disease risk of the patient.
They use a set formula to work out the intensity of treatment needed, entering the child’s age, the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in their blood, the genetic and biological make-up of the disease, and finally — and often most importantly — how well the child responds to the first month of therapy.
“This risk-adjusted treatment has been a significant progress, so there is a scale in what we do and not one size fits all,” Dr Mechinaud said. “Because Matilda responded well, but not very well, she is in the intermediate risk.
“We know that with very standard treatment we can cure up to 90 per cent of the kids with medication that has been used for many, many years.”
One of the hardest parts of cancer treatment has been separating the twins, who recently turned five. “She’s a non-stop little pocket rocket, and Paddy is very similar,” Mr Hutton-Latham said.
“Tilly will be saying, ‘I want to go home right now,’ to my wife when they’re in hospital. At the exact same time, Paddy will be at home saying pretty much the exact same thing, right down to the same words. You get a bit of that separation anxiety.
“Paddy just says he hates the germ. That he wants it to go away.
“I just hope she has a full recovery in the next couple of years, without any relapse so she can move on and put it all behind her.
Originally published in the Herald Sun, April 18, 2019
Words: Brigid O’Connell
Images: Jay Town
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