Little Ava is the life and soul of any situation. She greets people with a bubbly "Hi, I'm Ava!" and loves to play with her toy animals.
So, it was very worrying for her mum and dad when Ava suddenly became lethargic, didn't want to play and was crying in pain. She then struggled to walk and stopped eating.
Nothing prepared the family for the news that Ava had Stage IV Neuroblastoma – a type of cancer that forms in the nerve tissue.
In 10 days, their two-year-old daughter had gone from a chatty little ball of energy to being diagnosed with one of the most aggressive childhood cancers.
Mum Leanne said they felt numb.
"Our lives were crushed. It is very difficult to absorb that kind of information. It almost feels like it isn't true. I couldn’t even speak."
The feeling of loss was overwhelming. "I truly felt like I had lost my child - especially given the prognosis for children with Ava's stage and type of cancer," she said.
Ava's disease is in her bone marrow, her lymph and blood. She was immediately transferred to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne where doctors prepared the family for what the following 18 months of treatment would look like.
Ava endured an eight-hour surgery to remove the primary tumour, one of seven surgeries in the last year alone.
She has had two stem cell transplant operations, endless rounds of chemotherapy and countless tests, scans, anesthetics and blood and platelet transfusions.
With a six-month-old baby to care for as well - Ava's brother, Angus - Leanne describes the last year as an emotional rollercoaster for the family.
They've spent more time in hospital than at home and their lives are consumed with anxiety and sadness seeing Ava suffer so much pain and trauma that comes with cancer and its treatment.
"We live and breathe Ava's trauma. We've swapped the usual parent worries of your child falling over, to worrying about low platelets, blood transfusions and signs of progression of disease," Leanne said. "But we try to remain positive on this difficult journey and hope that she is one of the lucky ones".
Thankfully, the family has Starlight's hospital programs to lean on, and the difference that has made is life-changing.
It's wonderful the impact Starlight has on Ava's wellbeing. The Captain Starlights have brightened even Ava's darkest days. They in turn have put smiles on our faces, seeing our little girl light up when we thought it was impossible.Ava's mum, Leanne
On days when Ava can't get out of bed, her mood instantly lifts when she sees Captain Starlight and she can laugh, sing and dance and forget about all she's going through.
Leanne cannot imagine how Ava would have got through her surgeries and the long and gruelling months in hospital without that joy and happiness.
The work of Starlight is to me equally as important as the work of the therapies used to treat their illness. Without joy and happiness, children cannot remain mentally well through treatment. Mental wellness is so important to recovery - and Starlight provide happiness to patients through fun and play.Ava's mum, Leanne
Ava still has a long road ahead with more treatment needed. The family are in hospital 2-3 weeks of every month and are so thankful Starlight is there for them.
Leanne says they try to focus on the here and now and finding happiness amidst all the pain.
Happiness through play, laughter, singing and dancing is so influential to recovery. Starlight motivates and keeps the child on the path to recovery rather than losing hope. Happiness helps heal and Starlight brings about happiness in spades.Ava's mum, Leanne
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