Cailey’s incredible journey to walking again

With a smile on her face and a belly full of cake, 11-year-old Cailey walked out of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, (SCH) by herself for the first time in almost a year.

It was a monumental milestone for Cailey and her family following a grueling nine months of cancer treatment and rehabilitation.

Cailey's symptoms came on suddenly in November 2021. She had been playing tennis one afternoon as normal, and woke up the next morning off balance and having trouble walking.

On her visit to the SCH Emergency Department, an MRI of her spinal cord showed a tumour growing in her spinal canal. Cailey quickly lost movement in her legs and she was rushed in for emergency surgery.

It turns your world upside down. One day everything is fine and then suddenly we are in hospital,” Dan, Cailey’s father said.

Fortunately, the surgery went as well as they’d hoped for but after five days in the Children’s Intensive Care Unit the family were given the devastating news that the tumour was Ewing Sarcoma. 

The pressure of the tumour on Cailey’s spine had also left her with a spinal cord injury.

Ewing Sarcoma is a rare type of bone cancer most commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents. It meant Cailey would need eight months of chemotherapy and radiation, with nine fortnightly rounds in the first phase. She would also need intensive rehabilitation as she relearnt how to use her legs.

During her time in hospital, Cailey had rehabilitation with the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy departments six days a week and slowly, she began to rebuild her strength.

“When I first saw her after spinal surgery, she had no movement in her legs at all,” Physiotherapist, Sky Fosbrooke, said.

Cailey is incredibly determined though, and over the course of her recovery, we watched her continue to kick goal after goal.” 

Cailey spent 66 days in hospital, and many more weeks attending the Rehab2kids day rehabilitation program.

On her last rehabilitation session in November 2022, Cailey walked the corridors and out of SCH to the car – only using two crutches. It was the first time she had walked unassisted since her cancer diagnosis.

“She went from coming in predominately using a wheelchair to when she left, she walked out of the hospital independently using crutches, which was just amazing,” Sky said.

“Cailey’s journey is a great example of the success of Rehab2Kids’ 'step up' program, and how it can benefit patients who may not be able to do intensive rehab at the ideal time.”

Her family are forever grateful for the support of Cailey's treatment teams in her recovery. She even gave Sky a shower cap as a souvenir of their hydrotherapy sessions and the fun she had splashing him.

Cailey has now returned to school and with her scans clear, only needs to visit the hospital for follow ups with the Spinal Cord Clinic and Oncology Department.

 She is looking forward to returning to the things she loves in the future – tennis, cricket and swimming – and enjoying life to the fullest.

 “It has been a great weight off our shoulders and we were able to enjoy Christmas and the school holidays,” Gemma, Cailey’s mother, said.

 “We couldn’t have hoped for more.”