The bruises on her body were at first blamed on the boisterous adventures expected of any toddler.
Now, sitting inside the Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, father Brad Rapira struggles to hold back his tears.
His 22-month-old daughter Ahurewa lays in a hospital bed attached to a drip. She’s undergone multiple blood transfusions just in case doctors need to operate.
She’s just starting her life, Rapira said. She’s too young to have leukaemia.
Her whānau had noticed bruising on her skin from when she was 6 months old, but never thought it could be an indication of a severe illness.
After a test showed Ahurewa had a low cell count in her blood work, Rapira and his partner Rachael Potaka drove through the night from Palmerston North to Starship hospital.
Ahurewa was last week diagnosed with Acute Megakaryoblastic Leukaemia, a rare form of the disease that typically takes form in young children.
A clinical social worker at Ōhakea Air Force base, Rapira was trying to remain medically minded about his daughter’s condition, but the pain rang through his voice as he talked through the next steps in Ahurewa’s journey.
“We love her, and we just keep her as comfortable as possible.
“She’s very articulate in her language. She can articulate where she’s in pain.
Her whānau, who have researched alternative therapies to chemotherapy, had been criticised for considering a dual treatment of chemotherapy and medicinal cannabis because there was a view children shouldn’t have “those sorts of drugs” in their systems.
But Rapira said children shouldn’t have cancer either.
Regulations supporting the use of medicinal cannabis came into effect on April 1, and an expert in the controversial treatment was travelling to Starship to assess Ahurewa.
Rapira felt anything that could help his daughter was worth it.
“We’ve been doing research for a long time [on medicinal cannabis] so it’s not something new to us.
“Chemo is horrendous. It’s just poison going in there [and] destroying everything.”
There are about 21,000 people in New Zealand living with blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, according to Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand. Six are diagnosed with blood cancers every day.
Rapira and Potaka were thankful they had been given leeway to stay with Ahurewa in hospital after many parents were unable to stay near their children through the Covid-19 lockdown.
It’s unclear when the family will be able to return to Palmerston North for prolonged treatment, but Rapira said their faith and extended whānau were supporting them through the shock of Ahurewa’s illness.
“We’re in a spot of uncertainty. What does it look like after today? You just never know.
“[But] she’s still full of life, still running up and down the corridors here.”
A GiveaLittle page has been created for Ahurewa’s fight against leukaemia so Rapira and Potaka can focus solely on their daughter’s recovery.
As of Tuesday, the page has raised more than $5500 from almost 100 donors.