The Courtney Family Story
Charlotte is the older sister of Olivia Courtney who was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis in 2017 when she was 11 years old. Charlotte is 17 years old and attends Villa Maria College in Christchurch. She shared her experience of her sister’s cancer from her perspective at the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology/Oncology Group Annual Scientific Meeting earlier this year.
When Olivia first developed a lump on her head, the doctor thought it was a fatty cyst. One day, Olivia was hit on the head by a football at school and the ‘cyst’ swelled up across her face. She also started experiencing headaches. It wasn’t long before the cyst was recognised for what it really was. It was cancer.
Olivia started treatment and she went from being a slim, sporty, bubbly girl to being very self-conscious says Charlotte.
“It was horrible watching my sister change so quickly both physically and mentally. A few girls at school laughed at Olivia which left me in tears and affected my mental health. I became very protective of Olivia and kept guard over her at assembly in case anyone said anything about her.”
Charlotte was also badly affected by Olivia losing her hair. Olivia stepped out of the shower one night, holding her hair in her hands. Charlotte was so angry and upset by it all and “hated life.” During Olivia’s treatment, Charlotte missed out on events, including her aunt’s funeral. On the day of the funeral, Olivia had to be admitted to hospital as she had a high fever. Charlotte offered to stay at the hospital so her Mum didn’t miss the funeral.
It wasn’t all bad though. Charlotte liked looking after Olivia and doing fun things with her while she was in hospital. Her family was also always positive and grateful which helped them through the tough times. Going along to Olivia’s appointments also helped Charlotte cope. The appointments gave her the opportunity to find out how Olivia was really doing and talk to health professionals.
The turning point for Charlotte came when she ran a fundraiser for Child Cancer Foundation. She stood up in front of her school and spoke about the foundation. Everyone was so supportive and she realised that people really did care, even if they didn’t always quite understand what she and her family were going through.
Olivia finished treatment in February 2018 and is having regular checkups. Charlotte says that if she could, she would take back what happened to her family but she wouldn’t take back what it’s taught her family. Her sister’s experience has also inspired Charlotte to become a nurse.