Kailem, 18 is the youngest of three boys. But, as he points out, he is by far the biggest. Towering over older brothers Corey and Clint, he is also the strongest.
Late last year Kailem complained of a pain in his back and a burning feeling in his arm. He thought he’d pulled a muscle. The pain got worse. A plasterer by trade and working for his Dad’s business in Dubbo, he decided to visit a free medical centre in November. He was told to take Panadol and a couple of days off work. With little improvement and constant pain, Tony, Kailem’s Dad, took him to his GP who ordered scans.
At 9am, Kailem went for X-rays. By 10am, he had an urgent call from the clinic to return and Kailem and his parents, Tony and Donna were told a tumour was suspected. Bone scans, blood tests and ultrasounds were ordered. “That’s when I started to expect the worst,” says Kailem. The family travelled to RPA for an urgent biopsy. Kailem was right; it wasn’t good news.
It was Ewing Sarcoma, a rare but one of the more common cancers in teenagers and young adults. Dr Vivek Bhadri developed a treatment plan; six cycles of intensive chemo for four days every three weeks, followed by radiation therapy and eight more cycles of chemotherapy, three days every three weeks. “The red devil followed by the mop up chemo-14 cycles over 11 months,” adds Mum Donna.
Kailem is now on his third ‘mop up’ cycle and claims its side effects are less severe. An inpatient at Lifehouse, he suffers from some nausea and is often very tired. “I miss my four best mates and I can’t wait to get back to Dubbo.” At the end of every cycle, Tony is instructed to have the car full of petrol, idling at the front entrance to Lifehouse. No matter the time, be it 11pm at night, they make a speedy get away.
Camping, motor bikes, pig chasing, shooting and four-wheel driving is what Kailem loves. He’s an outdoors bloke who dreams of joining the army.
When asked how the diagnosis affected his personal life, his answer was simple; “I was hoping to be working so I could save the money for my car. All I want is a Ford Super Cab Ranger, a six speed manual.”
In other ways, his personal life has been enriched with the chance meeting of Rhys, a year older and further down his treatment than Kailem. In a startling coincidence, not only have they been diagnosed with the same rare cancer, they share the same birthday. “Rhys is a great bloke, easy going. It’s great to have someone I can talk to; I don’t have much in common with all the older patients.” Tony adds, “It’s been handy for us to talk to someone as well, they’ve told us what to expect, how the boys feel and how they handle the treatment.”
Back at home, the Dubbo community has raised more than $22,000 in funds to help pay for accommodation and the constant trips to Sydney. They’re also in the process of painting the family home, inside and out. “The country and community spirit is fantastic.” Tony is also grateful that he can be by Kailem’s side, “I’m one of the lucky ones, due to the nature of my business, I have the flexibility to come to Sydney for all the treatments. I feel sorry for other country parents that can’t be with their children.”
When asked what advice he has for others just diagnosed, “Don’t think about it, just get into it. And don’t ‘google‘, the internet isn’t always right.”