"It's impossible to describe the sense of surrealness we felt sitting in a hospital consulting room being told our happy-go-lucky, amazing little girl had cancer."
Since their daughter Ayla's diagnosis, mum Prasadi says their lives will never be the same.
Mid last year, seven-year-old Ayla, usually a little ball of energy, suddenly became lethargic with a persistent cough.
Tragically, suspected pneumonia turned out to be Hodgkin's Lymphoma - a cancer of the lymphatic system. Chest x-rays showed a mass the size of a grapefruit and Ayla was immediately admitted to Sydney Children's Hospital for treatment.
"Overnight, we went from a family with two healthy kids where our biggest worry was 'what's for dinner,' to suddenly researching chemo drugs, clinical trials and survival rates," Prasadi said.
The family faced further heartache months later when Ayla's cancer relapsed. "Once more, we sat in a consulting room hearing devastating news. It felt like a nightmare we couldn't wake up from."
During the family's agonising months in hospital, they discovered Starlight.
Prasadi said having that positive aspect to hospital made all the difference to Ayla's mindset.
Cancer is not just a physical battle. I firmly believe that the emotional well-being of the patient plays a big part in recovery. Giving kids a place to just be kids while in hospital is invaluable.Ayla's mum, Prasadi
When she was feeling well enough, Ayla looked forward to visiting the Starlight Express Room to have fun with arts and crafts and spend time with her big brother Ilan.
The Captains even threw Ayla a special hospital party to celebrate her 7th birthday - a day she will remember forever.
In Ayla's words, "The captains are really funny, and they can always turn bad things into good things."
Prasadi said it would have been much harder to deal with their situation without the 'happy place' that Starlight provides in hospital.
"It's been a life saver. There have been many times when the thought of going to the Starlight Express Room was the only thing keeping Ayla going during really rough patches of treatment."
Starlight helped Ayla cope with the fear of treatment and the sadness of missing her friends at school. Her positive, upbeat outlook shone through.
The difference Starlight has made to my daughter during her numerous hospital visits is immeasurable. It's been the difference between a little girl being sad and afraid, to one who is positive and hopeful, feeling like she can do anything. It's a gift that I feel I could never repay fully.Ayla's mum, Prasadi
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