23 February 2024

Young leukaemia sufferer issues call for help ... and Canberra delivers

| James Coleman
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Boy in garden

Rory Hillery is excited about all the new plants he has to look after. Photo: Jen Hillery.

Rory Hillery was devastated when he finally returned home from months of cancer treatment in Sydney: the plants the four-year-old and his mother Jen had painstakingly cultivated since October and his first yellow raspberry shrub had all died.

“We were looking for something to do that got him out in the sunshine, and he loves the plants – watching them grow – and he’s always so excited to see the little sprouts coming up,” Jen says.

“It was really lovely, so he was very upset to find out they didn’t survive.”

Rory received a “shock” leukaemia diagnosis late last year.

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“People talk about how – in the lead up to these types of diagnoses – they’re sick and fatigued for months and covered in unexplained bruises, but Rory had none of it,” Jen, who’s also a Navy medic, says.

“He got sent home from preschool one Friday afternoon not really feeling himself … over the weekend he was fine … but, on Sunday, my husband had a shower with him and noticed the glands in his neck, armpits and groin were swollen.”

Suspected glandular fever was instead found to be leukaemia after a blood test at the Canberra Hospital on the Monday morning, and Rory was airlifted to Sydney the next day.

Jen says her job was understanding but her husband had to resign from his so they and Rory’s older brother and two younger sisters could all be there, accommodated as a family in the hospital’s Ronald McDonald House. The family only just returned home to Canberra last week.

Boy gardening

The family was inundated with plant donations after approaching Canberra’s gardeners. Photo: Jen Hillery.

“Rory’s doing really well with his chemo – we were very lucky,” she says.

“He’s had a couple of bouts with nausea … and there was some medication that pretty much took his legs away for a while, but mostly he’s just getting on with his normal, happy five-year-old life. Besides losing his hair, you wouldn’t know at the moment.”

To help his recovery, she approached the Canberra Gardeners group on Facebook and asked if anyone would happen to have plants they’d be willing to donate. Within hours, the backyard was flush with new greenery, including another cherished yellow raspberry.

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“People jumped on it really quickly, which was lovely,” Jen says.

“He’s so happy about not just the raspberry, but a whole variety of plants. And we’re picking up another one tonight. People have just been so kind and generous and – when hearing about Rory – want to do something to make him smile. It’s been so nice to see.”

As for Rory, he still has another four months of intense chemotherapy treatment to go, before he moves to a further 18 months of maintenance in the form of oral tablets.

“He’s responding really well, so hopefully from mid-year, we’ll all be back here at home to stay and just getting on with the new normal. And hopefully at the end of two years, that’s it.”

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