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06 June 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
Life has no pause button – a lesson Horsham boy Braxton Williams’ family learned in devastating fashion in January when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
What had begun with concerning symptoms for the five-year-old – headaches, a loss of balance, blurred vision in his left eye – quickly turned gravely serious after a visit to Wimmera Eye Clinic.
An optometrist referred Braxton to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital where his mother, Sarah Lee, was given heartbreaking news; he had a slow-growing glioma at the base of his brain that had damaged nerves in his left eye and spread to his spine.
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Neurosurgeons attempted to remove the tumour, but found it was too vascular and the risk of bleeding too high.
Instead, Braxton started a course of chemotherapy to try to reduce the size of the tumour and preserve the vision in his right eye.
Braxton is now prone to seizures and has endured three emergency flights out of Horsham.
A worrying build-up of fluid on his brain necessitated a VP shunt in his head to help with drainage.
Braxton also receives ongoing physiotherapy and occupational therapy care to help him maintain his mobility.
Through it all, Braxton has maintained a remarkably strong spirit.
His father, Josh Williams, said Braxton was even able to joke about his appearance after undergoing chemotherapy and losing his hair.
“He said, ‘I look like grandpa now’,” Mr Williams said.
Life on hold
With Braxton requiring constant care in Melbourne, Ms Lee and her partner Jayden Clugston made an extremely difficult decision; they would put their life on hold and relocate to an apartment in Footscray to be near the Royal Children’s Hospital.
“It’s definitely tough because we’re three-and-a-half hours away from family and friends,” Ms Lee said.
“You feel a little bit isolated, but we try to go to different events that the hospital might have on.
“We went to a playgroup so Braxton could meet some other kids and I could meet some other mums, just so you’ve got someone you can talk to who is going through a similar thing.
“We had the option of going to the Ronald McDonald House, but it’s not really a home environment for Braxton.
“Being in a share house would be okay for a couple of weeks at a time, but to call it home just wasn’t something I thought would work for us, especially because Braxton’s immune system is down after treatment and I can’t afford to have him around anyone who is sick.”
It was the right move for the family, but it came with ramifications.
Ms Lee owned a property in Horsham, while Mr Clugston was in the process of building a new house.
With the cost of living in Melbourne much higher than in Horsham and Braxton’s medical expenses skyrocketing, Ms Lee did the only thing she could do and sold her property.
“I had to sell my house just to take off the strain there and we’re still trying to figure out what we can do with the other house when that’s finished,” she said.
“Not only that, I was working part-time before all of this happened, so we were used to two incomes and now we’re living off one. You definitely feel the pinch after a while.”
When Ms Lee approached Horsham real estate agent Rob Dolan about selling her house to fund Braxton’s treatment, he knew he had to do something.
“When Sarah told me what was happening, I was in tears,” he said.
“I’m a big softie when it comes to kids – I’ve got two boys of my own – and it still brings tears to my eyes.
“I said, ‘let’s do something and form a committee,’ and there have been some amazing people who have jumped on board.”
Mr Dolan’s idea was to organise a charity auction to support Braxton’s family through volunteer group Wimmera Against Cancer in Kids, WACK.
Ms Lee’s friends and family and the wider Wimmera community enthusiastically embraced the plan.
Zoe Dickerson, whose husband is Ms Lee’s cousin, was one of the first people to join the organising committee of an event that came to be known as ‘Beers and a Bid for Brax’.
Horsham’s Victoria Hotel volunteered its bar room for the auction, which will be on Sunday, June 16.
Businesses across the region flocked to support the cause.
“I would say there are easily more than 100 businesses that have donated, including a few businesses outside Horsham,” Mrs Dickerson said.
“We have a signed St Kilda guernsey, photography packages, a trailer load of wood, lots of hair products and massages and facials, and some weekends away.
“CrossCountry Fishing Charters in Portland has donated five hours fishing for two people.
“ACE Radio has donated two Medallion Club tickets to an AFL game and a night’s accommodation at the Parkview Hotel in Melbourne.
“I’ve been contacted by MP Emma Kealy who wants to donate a high tea at Parliament House in Melbourne, which is amazing.
“The items are so varied, we’ve been really fortunate.”
The event will feature live music from bands All the Kings Men and Acousticus Stomp.
In addition to auction items, $10 from every parma sold during the day will be donated to WACK.
Mr Dolan said organisers had set a target of raising $30,000 through the event, which WACK can then distribute to Braxton’s family as needed.
Any money that is unused by the family will be put towards renovating rooms at Ronald McDonald House.
Mr Dolan said activities would start at 11am, with the auction commencing between 1pm and 1.30pm and continuing ‘well and truly into the night’.
Ms Lee said the support of the Wimmera had given the family fresh hope.
“We’re very appreciative of what people are doing for us,” she said.
“It’s very overwhelming that the community is quite happy to rally together for Braxton.”
Mrs Dickerson agreed.
“I can’t remember a time previously where I’ve seen the Horsham community pull together like this,” she said.
“It’s amazing to see, and I think Sarah’s mum has gotten quite emotional at the amount of things people have donated and what people are willing to do to help out.”
Mr Dolan described the support as ‘phenomenal’, and reminded people that the most important thing they could do now was attend the event and bid on items.
“As a committee, there are a lot of people who have put so much time and effort into everything, but all this work won’t mean anything if we can’t get people there,” he said.
“That’s the most important part – getting people to come along so we can raise money for Brax.”
• People can find more information, including details on how to donate to WACK in support of Braxton, by searching for ‘Beers and a Bid for Brax’ on Facebook.
People can also call Mr Dolan on 0419 440 617 or Mrs Dickerson on 0400 043 150.
The entire June 5, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!