UNSTOPPABLE vomiting was the first sign a tumour was eating into the brain of healthy four-year-old Coutts Crossing boy James Drewett.
Difficulty walking, head pains and constant sleeping were the next symptoms Mary and Dave Drewett saw as they frantically sought answers for their boy in the weeks before New Year's Eve 2011.
By the time a Grafton Base Hospital paediatric doctor ran a CAT-scan which showed a tumour and fluid on the brain, James could barely walk.
"We were devastated and totally shocked," Mrs Drewett said.
The family had 10 minutes to pack up their lives before James was airlifted to Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital.
Doctors operated on his brain four times during January and the operation to remove the tumour paralysed him.
"James couldn't even sit up in bed for weeks. Now he can walk and talk, but he can't walk in a straight line as he is unco-ordinated and has to have physiotherapy," Mrs Drewett said.
"His brain had to relearn everything; he was like a toddler, pulling himself up to stand and he was only saying da-da-da like a baby for the first few weeks."
Surgery was only the first step to destroy the cancer cells as James has endured 33 sessions of radiation therapy over six weeks, which were challenging on a growing boy.
"They have to accurately target the cancer cells all through the brain and down the spine. He was growing a little bit, so it made it difficult for them to be sure they were getting the exact same spot each time and he had to stay still for up to an hour," Mrs Drewett said.
Growing will become a new problem for James, as damage caused by the radiation on his spine means he will need growth hormones to help him grow.
"Unfortunately the radiation treatment he has had over his whole brain means he will have learning difficulties, such as memory problems and learning new skills." Surgery caused one of his eyes to turn inwards and his eye specialist has him wearing an eye patch over his good eye to train the damaged eye.
"They said this will keep your son alive, but unfortunately he will have all these side effects which you will have to manage."
When the tragedy struck, the Drewett family, which includes two-year-old Liam, dropped everything and has been in Brisbane all year. They have been living in accommodation arranged by either the hospital or the charity Childhood Cancer Support.
It's a long road ahead for the family as James starts four months of chemotherapy next week.
Friends will support James and his family with two fundraisers this Saturday, May 12:
- Coutts Crossing Preschool Family Fun Day, 10am-2pm. Activities include a jumping castle, barbecue, games, face painting, market stalls and Miss Diane's head shave
- Fashion parade from 2pm, Clarence Village Community Hall, 194 Turf St, Grafton. Parade by Go Girlz and More 4 Men with Ben Jenkins entertaining. Afternoon tea provided. Tickets are $15 from sponsors or at the door.