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CanTeen there for Danielle

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Danielle Turnbull
DANIELLE TURNBULL catches up with Skip the terrier, friend Kelly Boyd (left) and sister Renee at her Te Awamutu home during hospital release on Friday. 121071AD

By Grant Johnston

The chance to talk to other teenagers fighting cancer has meant “heaps” to Te Awamutu 16-year-old Danielle Turnbull.

Contact with other cancer patients is just one of many ways that CanTeen has supported Danielle and her family.

“It’s a ‘place’ where you can be yourself. I have quite a few scars and things and not much hair at the moment and sometimes people stare. Other teenagers with cancer just treat each other as equals,” Danielle says. “They know what you are going through and how you feel. I’ve made some good friends through CanTeen.”

Danielle’s mum and dad, Linda and Tony Turnbull, say CanTeen is there for the whole family.

“They were there right from the start,” Mrs Turnbull says.

“CanTeen looks out for the siblings as well and that’s great because they are going through a lot themselves,” Mr Turnbull says.

Danielle’s sister Renee (18) says she and Danielle’s twin brother, Brad have also appreciated the chance to talk to other siblings of cancer patients.

“Just like for Danielle, they know what you are going through,” Renee says.

CanTeen has organised some of the essentials of teenage life for Danielle - magazines, DVDs and phone card top ups. They’ve also provided food and petrol vouchers for the family - initially too proud to accept but after a two-year period where fighting Danielle’s leukaemia has been a whole-family priority, the help is gladly accepted.

Danielle has been on trips with CanTeen - jetboating at Whakatane, horse riding at Kawerau, Rainbow’s End, a three day summer camp at Raglan and a weeklong CanTeen national camp at Gore, along with siblings Renee and Brad.

CanTeen is able to provide some comfort at a time when the lives of the Turnbull family, and Danielle in particular, have been ‘turned upside down’.

Danielle’s condition (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) was diagnosed in October 2005 - when Danielle was in Year 10 (fourth form) at Te Awamutu College. Lack of energy and appetite were signs that Danielle was not well. She was sent straight to hospital and a battery of tests confirmed that she had cancer.

“It’s any parent’s worst nightmare,” says Mr Turnbull. “I just kept thinking, she’s too young, too young ...”

A number of agencies and organisations have been extremely supportive - including Te Awamutu College and Northern Health School (allowing Danielle to continue her studies by correspondence).

CanTeen was there from the beginning, initially with information to answer most of the myriad of questions that arose (Danielle has sold bandanas to raise funds for CanTeen, while twin Brad ran in the Relay for Life in Hamilton).

It’s been a long haul - with intensive treatment over prolonged periods. These efforts saw the cancer into remission last year and Danielle feeling well enough to return to College at the start of this year. But a relapse after six weeks sent Danielle back to hospital. She has just recovered from a bout of pneumonia.

In all the many weeks Danielle has spent in hospital, a family member or friend has stayed with her every night (including eldest brother Scott when back from Otago University) - except two nights when she wanted to be alone.

Sadly, although all family members were tested, a bone marrow match for Danielle could not be located anywhere. But a breakthrough treatment procedure - involving blood from umbilical cords - has offered new hope. Danielle has been accepted for one of these stem cell transplants at Starship Hospital in Auckland - but first has to get her blood cell counts to a healthy enough level. She would become just the second person in New Zealand to receive such a transplant.

CanTeen will be the beneficiary of a special fundraising night at Trust Waikato Te Awamutu Events Centre on May 25. It is being put on by Waikato Central Region Public Prisons Service staff (including Waikeria, Tongariro/Rangipo and Spring Hill Corrections Facility). There will be staff and celebrity boxing matches, hair shaving and a range of entertainment (provided by talented staff and associates).

For more information about participating in the CURE-Can-Teen night, booking a corporate table or simply making a donation to help a great cause, phone Gavin Dalziel or Sosefo Bourke at 872 6700 or 0800 200 670, or email sosefo.bourke@corrections.govt.nz or gavin.dalziel@corrections.govt.nz