Heartbreaking cancer diagnosis for boy, 3, hospitalised over 'sore legs'

A mother's gut instinct after being told the boy just had 'growing pains' led to the devastating discovery.

Mel, Troy and PJ cutting a birthday cake (left) and a close up of PJ (right).
Mel Del Medico's and Troy Leyshon's little boy PJ had just turned three when he started complaining of sore legs. Source: Supplied

When Mel Del Medico’s three-year-old son started complaining of “sore legs” at the start of February, doctors told her it was probably growing pains, or that it had to do with PJ’s hypermobility in his joints, or that it was because his bones hadn’t calcified yet.

But when her little one started refusing to walk, crying in pain every time someone tried to pick him up, she knew something was really wrong.

“I had doubts,” the Adelaide woman told Yahoo News Australia. “I was just like, something obviously has to be more sinister here. It's got to be something else. But the doctor kept telling me, ‘it's nothing, it's nothing’.”

And then PJ’s temperature spiked.

“He had about four to five days of fevers that we could only manage by giving him Panadol and Nurofen one after another, and that’s when Troy and I both just said to each other, ‘nope, this isn’t OK’,” the 36-year-old said.

It was the “last straw” that led Del Medico, who has two other children, and her partner, who has three other children, to North Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

PJ at the beach (left) and lying in a hospital bed (right).
PJ went from a happy and giggly child to not being able to move because of the pain. Source: Supplied

Within an hour and a half of PJs second blood test his parents received the worst news imaginable.

“The doctor came in and sat down and said that his haemoglobin was really really low,” Del Medico explained.

“That's why he looked so pale and unwell. His white cell counts were basically non-existent. And then the doctor said that from everything that they’d done it was looking like it is going to be leukaemia.

“They were just unsure of exactly which leukaemia it was.”

The diagnosis hit the family of eight like a shock wave. But for Mel, it was confirmation of her mother’s intuition.

“Deep down in my gut, I had a feeling that it could be this but I just kept telling myself, ‘no, it's not, these things don't happen, it can't happen’,” she said. “You know, other people have this stuff happening and you're like, ‘It can't happen to my child’.

“But it really can and it's so scary because you get told the news and it's like, ‘Is my child going to live?’ because at the end of the day, it is leukaemia. It is cancer.”

Four different types of chemo

From the emergency department to the oncology ward, over the next few days PJ underwent three bone marrow biopsies, a lumbar puncture and a blood transfusion because he was so unwell.

Eventually, the three-year-old was officially diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and it’s all in his legs. “That’s why he was in so much agonising pain,” his mother explained.

From there, doctors started PJ on four different types of chemotherapy and while he is responding well to treatment it’s been a hell of a journey, with the family being forced to rush back to hospital each time the little boy becomes ill.

PJ playing with his brothers.
Del Medico said PJ's diagnosis, and his time in and out hospital, is hitting his siblings hard. Source: Supplied

“We first got admitted on the 30th of March, when he was diagnosed, and we’ve spent just three nights at home since because he's constantly in and out of hospital being sick,” Del Medico said.

From severe belly pain “to the point that he can’t do anything but scream and cry”, to leg pain, bad constipation, and high fevers, it’s been up and down for PJ, as well as his siblings who range from 10 to 15 years old.

“It's been very, very difficult and it’s taken a toll on the whole family,” Del Medico said. “The kids understand the full situation and know exactly that he has cancer and that we have a very, very long road ahead, and cannot plan anything at the moment, because one minute we could be fine and the next minute we could be in an ambulance or driving to the hospital.

“That’s how quick things can change with him at the moment, and the kids are finding it really, really difficult to watch their brother go through all of this.”

Mel with PJ (left) and his father Troy holds him on his shoulders (right).
Del Medico and Troy Leyshon have been unable to work while PJ has been in hospital. Source: Supplied

Friends rally around family

While PJ’s parents face their darkest hour, Del Medico's two best friends have launched a GoFundMe page in order to help support the West Lakes Shore couple who are now unable to work.

“I was about to start looking for work while Troy was in a job, but he's no longer working because we need to constantly be there for PJ and to be able to look after the other children,” Del Medico explained.

“We’re renting a house at the moment and we did get flagged for overdue rent because we haven't been able to pay the full amounts, and we were told that if we didn't pay it within a certain amount of time that we would lose our house.”

Money raised through the fundraiser will not only keep a roof over the family’s head, but it will help them with living expenses, food vouchers, parking at the hospital and any out of pocket medical expenses.

“This is PJs safe place,” Del Medico said of their family home. “So we want to make sure that we keep his safe place, so that he can continue to recover as best as possible when we are out of hospital.”

A mother’s intuition

While PJ now faces three and a half years of treatment, Del Medico said they’re lucky they caught his cancer fairly early, and encouraged others to listen to their gut instincts.

PJ lying down (left) and sitting up (right) in a hospital bed.
Friends have rallied around PJ and his family and are calling on others to help support them. Source: Supplied

“You know your child better than anybody else does, and if you feel that something's not right, you need to continue to push to make sure that you get the answers that you need to make sure your child is OK,” she told Yahoo News. “Even if you’re getting blown away and being told that it’s nothing. You need to stand up.

“Because to watch your child go through what we are going through right now is absolutely heartbreaking. To see the amount of surgeries, to see the amount of chemotherapy, and to see how sick he's become.

“They say that the first six months are the most intense, but the first two and a half weeks have been absolutely horrible and it’s just changed him. He used to be a child that would run around and play all the time, used to be laughing and giggling. Now he just lays there because he's in so much pain. It’s just so hard.”

You can help PJs family by donating to the GoFundMe page which has already received more than $4,500, but has a target of $15,000, with Del Medico’s friends calling for continued love and support for the family.

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