ACT News


A future for Freyja - brave Canberra girl battles rare cancer as the community rallies around her

There are few sights more confronting than a child pale and fragile, receiving treatment in a hospital.

Canberra girl Freyja Christiansen has cancer in her neck which has confounded the experts, believed to be a melanoma but a kind only found in adults.

Her case has gone as far as Harvard Medical School in an attempt to confirm the type of cancer and the best treatment for it.

Some steps forward have recently been taken for the brave five-year-old, who is at the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick.

Doctors were planning to start immunotherapy for Freyja on Wednesday using new drugs meant for adults but scaled down.

"It's obviously terrifying because they're about to fill her full of drugs that an adult would take and they don't know if it will work," Freyja's mum Liz Christiansen said.


Also with Freyja in Sydney are her big sisters Brynn​, 9, and Inge​, 7, who are staying at Ronald McDonald House in Randwick, doctors and social workers reluctant to break up the single-parent family for what may be at least six weeks of treatment.

"The girls are very, very close. It's a love-hate relationship but mostly love I have to say," Ms Christiansen said.

"During a lot of her scary times, Freyja doesn't just want mamma, she wants her sisters there as well. There's been a really empathy, caring shift in their relationship, which is quite beautiful."

The girls all attend Yarralumla Primary School. Freyja missed her first day of kindy due to medical tests. But the school did accommodate a special orientation day just for her last Friday before she moved to Sydney for her treatment.

The girls will keep in touch with their classmates and undertake virtual lessons. There is also a school at the hospital. And Liz's sister Penny, a nurse, has flown in from the United Kingdom. 

"She can be me when I need to go off and have a cry but also she can be with Freyja when I need to spend time with the other girls," she said.

It was mucking around with horses - hosing them off at the end of a hot day and getting nice and muddy in the process - that may have just helped to save the life of Freyja.

The sisters were all enjoying a Christmas-time program at the National Equestrian Centre, having plenty of fun in the mud. But it also meant lots of scrubbing in the bath for mum. Which is how she noticed the lump on Freyja's neck.

"It was getting bigger. Not fast. But it had certainly progressed," she said.

"I thought it was her glands being up but it was hard and it didn't hurt and it wasn't going away.

"Over Christmas she'd also been lethargic. Not a little girl running around excited opening up Christmas presents."

While some medical advice told her not to worry, Mrs Christiansen persisted and asked for more tests which resulted in the cancer on the left side of Freyja's neck being found and the little girl being rushed to Sydney.

The cancer would usually be removed but is too close to the cortex and could affect brain function if disturbed.

Ms Christiansen's brother Darren Paterson has started a gofundme page and Facebook campaign called "A Future for Freyja" to help with the medical bills and other expenses. Ms Christiansen was in the process of building a new home for the girls at Denman Prospect but that dream is now under threat due to the medical expenses.

"As any single mum out there would know, even looking after kids full stop is challenging and sometimes lonely," Mr Paterson said.

"It's going to be stressful, it's going to be difficult and there needs to be a broad network of helpers there for her."

Ms Christiansen works for the ASG Group in Deakin. Her boss, Wayne Gowland, is allowing her the time off she needs.

"Most of us have been impacted by serious illness directly or indirectly at some point in time, and at these times we need to have the flexibility to prioritise our family and loved ones," Mr Gowland said.

While she is focused on Freyja and her other daughters, Ms Christiansen said she hoped to one day also raise money to purchase a child-friendly scanning machine for Canberra for procedures such as MRIs, with other hospitals having them in designs such as pirate ships or submarines.

She said Freyja was so frightened about going into the conventional machines, she had to have a general anaesthetic and stay overnight in hospital for what might only be a five-minute scan.

"With the [decorated machines], children think they are going on a ride and it's a lot less stressful. I would love to raise money to buy one for Canberra," Ms Christiansen said, adding she felt the support of the community towards her and her family.

"I'm very lucky," she said.