Oli rings the remission bell

It’s not every day you get your own guard of honour, but for four year old Oli, his days aren’t like most others.

Oli ringing the bell with Dad Joel, being cheered on by his care team

Oli is officially in remission from a rare and aggressive form of neuroblastoma, a type of cancer. In March 2022, surrounded by his family and care team, Oli triumphantly rang the cancer bell on Kookaburra, the cancer ward at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) to celebrate being in remission. It was a moment of excitement and complete relief for Dad Joel.

“Ever since we were on the ward, we saw the bell ringing and it stayed in my mind as our ultimate goal for Oli, it inspired us to go to hell and back,” said Joel.

“We’re so grateful that he’s healthy and cancer free, we feel so lucky to have this world-class hospital here for him. He had the most dedicated care team, including our consultant Dr Molly Williams,” said Joel.

Oli’s parents Joel and Leni family first saw signs of something wrong 18 months ago, when Oli began walking with a limp, which got progressively worse until he could no longer walk. After rushing him to the Emergency Department at the RCH, they were told their three-year-old had a fractured femur bone.

Oli was in incredible pain and had high temperatures. Doctors continued to investigate with blood tests, and first believed he had osteomyelitis, which is the inflammation or swelling of the bone. Oli had a bone biopsy to confirm this diagnosis.

Oli and family with Dr Molly Williams

Joel clearly remembers one day in September 2020, while his wife Leni was heavily pregnant with their third child Thalia, that they got a call from doctors at the RCH who told them they needed to come in for a meeting.

“This was when we first met Dr Molly Williams, who would be our oncology consultant. She broke the news that the biopsy results had come back, and that Oli had neuroblastoma. We had never heard of it before, and when she explained it, we were utterly devasted. Our lives changed forever from that point.”

Oli in hospital during the 2021 Good Friday Appeal. Picture: David Caird, Herald Sun

It was discovered that little Oli had a tumour the size of the mango in his adrenal gland, above his kidney, and that the cancer had also spread to his bones. Due to the advanced and aggressive stages of his cancer, he began immediate treatment at the RCH.

“Oli’s treatment involved rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, radiation treatment, a stem cell transplant as well as immunotherapy. At one stage, Oli was in the hospital for seven months straight,” said Joel.

After 18 exhausting months, the family received the much anticipated news that Oli was officially in remission. The bell ringing was a perfect way to close this chapter of intense treatment and uncertainty for Oli and his family.

Neuroblastoma is a very rare form of childhood cancer, with only 30 children diagnosed each year in Australia. It also has a high chance of relapse. Oli’s family have decided to enter a clinical trial in the United States to give Oli the best chance in his recovery. Through their own personal fundraising, they will travel to Charlotte in North Carolina every three months for a two week stay to participate. This will continue for another two years.

Oli with parents Joel and Leni

“Not everyone does this, but it was a choice we made to seek further treatment. We are so grateful to the RCH for supporting our decision to go, and they will have access to his results which will inform his check-ups in Melbourne,” said Joel.

“Oli has a lot on his plate, but we’re excited that he can return to kindergarten, be at home with us and his sisters Alesia and Thalia and enjoy life as a normal four-year-old boy.”

Last year, Oli was featured during the Good Friday Appeal while on the ward. Support this year’s Appeal and help kids like Oli enjoy a healthy and happy childhood.

Donate to the Good Friday Appeal