When you hear the name ‘Robbie Williams’ most people will picture the international singing sensation, or more locally the man whose family received a renovation rescue to their home. We are writing to you to share the story of Robbie Williams the dad, who had to hand over his role as protector for his own child to another. A dad who was forced to learn that sometimes the bravest thing you could do for your child is to step aside and give control and trust to a stranger.
It was in January 2014 that Robbie and Courtney Williams’ young family’s lives were turned upside down when they were told their youngest daughter, Maddie had a tumor one quarter the size of her body inside her. She was only 8 months old.
“Courtney was at the hospital with Maddie, a doctor called me at work to say Maddie had a tumor. I didn’t know what that meant, was it benign, was it cancerous? I dropped everything and went there,” Robbie says.
Within a day Maddie was transferred to the cancer ward at the children’s hospital. It was there that the official diagnosis was confirmed as Neuroblastoma, a disease in which cancer cells form in nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest or spinal cord. It is the third most common cancer diagnosed in children in Australia. Maddie’s cancer was already at stage 4 as it had progressed into her bone marrow meaning she had to start chemotherapy immediately.
“The children’s cancer ward is somewhere no one should have to walk into, it’s the scariest place. People who were already in there looked at us as if to say – oh no, a new family,” Robbie said.
While Courtney stayed in hospital for 17 days straight, sleeping in an armchair on the ward, Robbie had to continue his days as if nothing had changed on the surface, going to work to pay the bills, only when he got home his home was empty.
“As a dad you sort of feel like a fifth wheel in the whole scenario. Courtney was up to her knees in doctors and nurses and tests being run. Charli, our four year old daughter learned how to feed Maddie and give her, her meds.”
Robbie says he felt there was a big gap in support for dads who can’t always be physically at the hospital to be involved in their child’s treatment.
“I felt anger, then hopelessness, I guess it was the fear of the unknown. I was going home to an empty house and just sitting there and crying alone.” What helped Robbie to reconcile his emotions and gain some direction was connecting with other dads on the ward.
“It was only from other dads going through the same thing that I learned that feeling hopeless and powerless was normal, it wasn’t the wrong response to have.” Within eight months, Maddie went through eight rounds of chemotherapy and had a one kilo tumor removed from her four kilogram body. Then in September 2014 she was miraculously declared to be in remission. Robbie’s youngest daughter may have beaten cancer, but he also found something to fight for himself.
Only one per cent of government funding for cancer studies is allocated to kids’ cancer research, yet Australia has one of the highest incidences of childhood cancer worldwide. It is the single greatest cause of death from disease in Australian children, with three children losing their lives to cancer every week. The cancer that Maddie Williams fought has a survival rate as low as 50 per cent.
“Our family was lucky, Maddie kicked cancer in the face but we couldn’t have done it without the research being done by the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation.”
CLCRF relies purely on the generous support of the community to fund vital research into the cause and treatment for these rare cancers children develop. We receive no State or Federal funding. Robbie says if he can prevent any other dad from experiencing his story, he will do whatever it takes.
“My job now is to support other dads. I can’t do anything else, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a researcher so all I can do is support people and continue to raise money. “
To ensure CLCRF can continue to fund life-changing research and offer hope to families like Robbie’s, we need your help. Your support will assist doctors to find more effective treatments for young children who are bravely fighting these cancers and bring families back together in their own homes sooner. By making a donation to the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation ahead of tax time, you will be helping others and yourself.