Son's rare blood disease inspires mum to forego vanity
"IT'S horrible to see your child screaming in agony and knowing there's nothing you can do," says Gladstone mother Alicia Armstrong.
Alicia's youngest son Toby was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in November 2016, and takes daily chemo tablets to treat it.
Alicia shaved her head last year for the World's Greatest Shave, which raises funds for blood cancer research.
Alicia gave it another go today at the Tannum Sands Hotel, this time opting for a partial shave and retaining a topknot of colourful dreadlocks.
She was nervous before the shave started but, placed in the capable hands of hairdresser Lauren Powell, it all worked out.
For the first three months after Toby's diagnosis, Alicia blamed herself.
"What did I do wrong? How could I have avoided it?" she said.
"Toby was in a lot of pain - when just starting the chemo, (sufferers) get a lot of bone pain."
But Toby was one of the relatively lucky ones, because people with CML don't necessarily show symptoms in the early stage of the disease.
He became sick in November 2016 - with an unrelated illness - but it was sufficiently worrying for Alicia to take the advise of a House Call Doctor and drive him to hospital.
A routine blood test soon picked up Toby's leukaemia - which luckily was in the first of three stages.
Often the condition is not picked up until it's in the blast stage.
At that stage, Alicia said, "it basically makes your blood go to jelly because you produce so many immature white blood cells".
CML is a very rare condition in children, and is much more likely to strike older adults.
Alicia said there are only four cases of CML diagnosed in children per year in Australia.
The disease occurs when early myeloid bone marrow cells mutate.
These are the immature cells that will become red blood cells, most white blood cells and platelets.
Alicia said while Toby had responded well to the chemotherapy medication, he continues to suffer side effects.
"He still gets nausea all the time, so he's on anti-nausea tablets," she said.
"He still gets fatigued all the time.
"It's just a matter of rearranging our whole life to accommodate how he feels. Some days he is better than others.
"He was suffering from motion sickness before (and) it has gotten worse, so we can't travel far from home."
Despite this, Toby, a mature, well-spoken 12 year old, said he'd been going "pretty good".
"The chemo's been working really good. It's going better and better," he said.
"It depends on how (the medication) reacts, with me it worked well, with someone else it might not work."
Alicia's new haircut will turn some heads - but in Toby's opinion?
"She looks good," he said.