Torn between her two children, Dee Orr faced the most heartbreaking ordeal that any devoted mother would ever have to face.
Dee, heavily pregnant when her eight-year-old daughter Paige was undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia, was forced to leave her daughter’s side to give birth.
The Napier mother went into labour in Paige’s hospital room at Starship Children’s Health in Auckland as Paige was fighting for her life, recovering from another gruelling round of chemotherapy.
Remembering that moment in June 2012, when she was forced to abandon her very sick child to give birth to another, was the most gut-wrenching experience of Dee’s life.
“Paige was very sick. I had just finished showering her and put her back to bed. She was falling asleep when my contractions started and I went into labour,” explains Dee.
“I had warned Paige that if she woke up and I was not by her side, then I had probably gone to have the baby. I told her not to panic and that I loved her very much.”
Dee (32) was confined to the maternity ward for a couple of days and wasn’t allowed to see Paige – torn between two children that equally needed their mother’s love.
“No mother should have to choose – that was the hardest part. You’ve got one child whose whole life depends on you and you’ve got another whose fate was in the hands of the doctors.”
Now 10, Paige is in remission. Dee is acknowledging her daughter’s battle with cancer by fronting a national campaign, the Shave for a Cure television and newspaper advertisements, to promote the work of Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand. To raise funds for the cause, Dee shaved her head in her daughter’s honour.
“It’s unfair what these kids have to go through.”
The ordeal started for the close-knit Napier family when Paige began suffering flu-like symptoms in April 2012. Doctors immediately identified that she was suffering something far more serious than a cold and sent her to hospital for tests.
She was eventually flown to Starship Children’s Health where she was diagnosed with leukaemia and began four courses of chemotherapy.
“When we were told the news, my world just changed forever. I cried every day for the first four weeks. You lose all the excitement about a new baby, and planning for everything because you are so worried about your sick child,” says Dee.
The family – which included Jamie Mathers (39), Dee’s fiancé and Paige’s stepfather, and Dee’s stepdaughter Ivy (13) – were forced to put their lives on hold and relocate from the Hawke’s Bay to Auckland while Paige received treatment and Dee awaited her new arrival.
“They were flying my daughter to Auckland when I was 32 weeks pregnant. I begged them to put me on the plane. There was no way I was going to send my sick daughter on a plane without her mother by her side.”
When Dee finally had her baby, in the middle of Paige’s treatment, it was an extremely hard time.
“It made me sick as a mother that I couldn’t be in two places at the same time. Paige couldn’t hold her baby sister for weeks because Chloe needed to build up her immunity. The two sisters met for the very first time over Skype. It broke my heart.”
But, nearly a week after Chloe’s birth, Dee was so heartbroken by the separation that she snuck Chloe in to see her big sister. When the two little girls finally met face to face it was a hugely emotional occasion.
“Paige held her little sister in her arms and cried,” explains Dee.
“She’s been brave throughout the whole ordeal and holding the baby was something she was looking forward to.”
After the birth, Paige had one more round of chemotherapy. The proud mother says her daughter fought with all her might and beat the cancer.
“Paige thankfully has something special inside of her that attacked the cancer so fast. Doctors knew after the rounds of chemo that Paige would go straight into remission.”
After six months in Auckland, the family returned to Napier and Paige has been fit and healthy ever since.
Almost two years after the ordeal, Paige continues to be cancer free and is enjoying being a big sister to Chloe. And her parents have some more wonderful news – they are expecting another baby, due in a couple of weeks.
Also, Chloe had a big part to play when her parents finally got engaged on Boxing Day.
“I was heavily pregnant and laying on the bean bags in the lounge. Chloe came running in with a ring box and threw the ring at me and went away. Jamie then appeared, got down on one knee, and proposed.”
With a wedding to plan and another baby on the way, life has been good for Dee. She’s proud of her daughter’s strength and bravery, and applauds children who are battling cancer.
“Paige is always energetic, a happy, smiley little girl,” says Dee. “She dealt with her illness in an amazing way. Children that go through this are such strong little creatures. We don’t give them enough praise for what they can handle.”