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Teen's plea following deadly cancer diagnosed after 'alien' lump grew

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 13/06/2019 Sarah Swain
a person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Tamlin, 15, was told she had the deadly cancer, which shares characteristics of leukemia and lymphoma, two years ago. © Supplied Tamlin, 15, was told she had the deadly cancer, which shares characteristics of leukemia and lymphoma, two years ago.

Tamlin Hall has such a rare form of cancer it affects just a handful of children globally and baffled doctors at first.

“The hospital was googling it,” her mother, Kerrilee Hall, 49, from Brisbane, told nine.com.au.

Tamlin, 15, was told she had the deadly cancer, which shares characteristics of leukemia and lymphoma, two years ago.

It’s called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic-cell neoplasm – BPDCN for short.

“She’s only the third child to be diagnosed in Australia,” said Mrs Hall.

“We’ve found 14 or 15 kids worldwide, and not all of them are alive unfortunately.

“The previous child in Queensland didn’t make it.”

Tamlin had seen doctors before about the 10cm circular lump on her leg, which had started growing when she was 11, and felt painful when she did sport at school.

But the family was told the growth - which she dubbed her ‘alien’- wasn’t cancer, and she was given antibiotics, which did help.

But it grew back.

The schoolgirl’s diagnosis finally came through after she fell on a step at home and burst the lump.

Destiny Whitlock wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Tamlin, with her mother, Kerrilee, is urging people to become blood donors. © Supplied Tamlin, with her mother, Kerrilee, is urging people to become blood donors.

She was rushed to A&E at the Queensland Children's Hospital, where more tests were done.

The diagnosis, which took 18 days to arrive, was bleak, said Mrs Hall.

LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS TO LIVE

Tamlin had seen medics before about the 10cm circular lump on her leg, which had started growing two years before, and was painful when she did sport at school. © Supplied Tamlin had seen medics before about the 10cm circular lump on her leg, which had started growing two years before, and was painful when she did sport at school.

“When oncology worked out what it was, they said she had less than four weeks left to live,” she said.

“It was really quite confronting and frightening.”

The family were told the cancer is usually found in older men.

Even then it affects only 1000 people a year globally, according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in the USA.

And Mrs Hall said it was impossible to hide how bad the diagnosis was from her daughter.

Tamlin admitted she read a lot online about the disease.

“It was very, very confronting to read about it but I needed to know what I was fighting so I knew how to fight it,” she said.

“People normally don’t make it.

a woman sitting in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Tamlin in hospital around the time she was diagnosed. © Supplied Tamlin in hospital around the time she was diagnosed. Doctors blasted the cancer with treatment including two forms of chemo. But it returned. © Supplied Doctors blasted the cancer with treatment including two forms of chemo. But it returned.

“All the information online was ‘you’re not going to live if you’re past that point’. But here I am.”

Doctors blasted the cancer with treatment including two forms of chemo.

But it returned.

Tamlin’s four siblings - including her twin - were tested to see if they were matches to donate bone marrow, and her older brother Michael, 18, was the best option.

He donated a huge amount of bone marrow, despite it being a painful procedure.

And while she has had complications, two years later, Tamlin is doing well, and is back at school.

But her mother admitted they’re always worried the cancer could return.

“Once the kids have relapsed they’re usually dead within a month,” she said.

RECOVERY RELIED ON BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS

As well as the bone marrow transplant, a vital part of Tamlin’s treatment and recovery relied on blood transfusions.

And the teen - who now wants to become a doctor - is urging people to sign up to the Australian Red Cross’s first 24-hour donate-athon, Bloody Great Friday which starts tonight.

Donors are urged to go to specially set up hubs in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne from 7pm tonight until 7pm tomorrow night, with entertainment and food on offer.

a person sitting on a bed: Tamlin having her blood marrow transplant after being diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer, called BPDCN. © Supplied Tamlin having her blood marrow transplant after being diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer, called BPDCN.

“It’s important because it’s just so essential for treatment. It’s keeping people alive,” she said.

“If we didn’t have the bone barrow donors and blood donors, she wouldn’t be here,” added Mrs Hall.

a person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Tamlin is urging people to sign up to the Australian Red Cross’s first 24-hour donate-athon, Bloody Great Friday which starts tonight. © Supplied Tamlin is urging people to sign up to the Australian Red Cross’s first 24-hour donate-athon, Bloody Great Friday which starts tonight.

“Giving blood you can honestly say you’re a life saver. You are someone’s hero.”

Australia needs a new blood donor every five minutes, with 99,000 new donors required over the next 12 months.

Blood Service Spokeswoman Nicky Breen, said: “In an Australian first, we’re opening three donor centres around the clock in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to highlight the need for 99,000 new donors over the next 12 months.

“The inaugural Bloody Great Friday event on June 14 is part of National Blood Donor Week but don’t worry if you can’t make it to one of the three donor centres, by making a donation at any time in the future you’ll still be saving lives.”

The Australian Red Cross also handles the bone marrow register, and new volunteers are needed to sign up too.

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