In June 2018, Tim and Keri-Anne Hayes waved goodbye to their 14-year-old daughter Stephanie as she left to attend a sleepover, oblivious to the pain and horror that would soon follow.
At her friend’s house not long after, Stephanie had difficulty breathing and collapsed before being rushed to hospital.
It was then a CT scan discovered a large lymphoma tumour in her chest, located between her heart and lungs, which came as a complete shock to the family.
Due to the pressure it put on her vital organs, Stephanie went into cardiac arrest and remained unresponsive due to the significant brain damage it caused.
Since then the family has had to struggle with every parent’s worst nightmare – the sudden loss of their innocent child.
“We had absolutely no idea, she had a bit of a cough a few weeks prior but we had taken her to see the doctor and he gave her some medication for that,” he said.
“She never woke up after she collapsed.”
Stephanie’s younger sister, Olivia, struggled with the trauma that ensued.
“Olivia, she went silent. She didn’t want to talk about it, but we knew we needed to find help for her,” Mr Hayes said.
To help her grieve the loss of her sister, the family enrolled her into ‘Feel the Magic’, a program where she would meet other children who are going through a similar experience.
“They are given tools to manage their grief in a place where their feelings are truly understood,” Mr Hayes said.
“At their Camp Magic you’re in an environment with 50 other kids going through the same thing and they’re given mentors to assist them.
“When she came back she was like a different child.”
Mr and Mrs Hayes were also provided support through the program with adult sessions.
Now, the family have taken it upon themselves to give back to the foundation that helped them through some of their darkest days.
As part of the 2020 Cole Classic races, they have started a Swim for Stephanie team and fundraiser to help other children receive the support they need at Camp Magic.
“It costs $1000 per child to send them to Camp Magic, so every $1000 we raise is another person we are supporting to go,” Mrs Hayes said.
So far the family has raised over $5000.
To donate, visit bit.ly/2Sh7Vdk.
A graduate of Western Sydney University, Nicola Barton is a news journalist with the Western Weekender, primarily covering crime and politics.