Against all odds: Brave Bella's incredible story of survival
BELLA Bates' story reached deep into the heart of Gladstone two years ago when a tumour taking over a quarter of her brain was discovered.
She was just one year old.
After six surgeries and multiple rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, it still wasn't enough and her parents, Robin Berthelsen and Dan Bates, were told by doctors at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital to "go home and make memories".
Bella is completely unaware that May is Brain Cancer Awareness month, but despite the dire predictions, at nearly three years old, Bella is today a happy, bright little girl.
The difference was world famous but controversial Dr Charlie Teo. Robin and Dan went against the advice of the medical team when they first consulted Dr Teo in Sydney.
"The overwhelming theme was that we should be very cautious," Robyn said.
"We were told he was a cowboy, but we had nothing to lose.
"He was confident he could remove Bella's tumour, but he was also very frank that she could die on the operating table."
After an agonising six-hour surgery, Dr Teo was the third neurosurgeon to operate on Bella, the first not to abort surgery and the only one able to remove the tumour.
Bella has now had two clear scans, the most recent last month.
But her future is still uncertain; not only because the highly aggressive cancer could come back, but because of the treatment itself.
Brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease.
Four of five people with the disease will die within five years of their diagnosis and all current treatments are not suited to children.
"Children have a developing brain and chemotherapy and radiation cause significant late effects, some of which are not noticeable for many years," Robin said.
"Immunotherapy is the way of the future but a lot of money is needed for research to divert treatment away from chemotherapy and radiotherapy."
The Federal Government has introduced a Zero Childhood Cancer initiative and Bella is now part of a trial.
"People need to talk about this, to be aware," Robyn said.
"It's our biggest childhood killer and it's hidden away."
To support brain cancer research, go to Bella the Brave on Facebook or charlieteofoundation.org.au
- 1600 Australians are diagnosed with brain cancer and 1200 die from the disease every year
- Brain cancer kills more children than any other disease and more people under 40 than any other cancer
- The relative five-year survival rate has hardly changed in 30 years