Freyja Christiansen due home to Canberra on Thursday after Australia-first surgery to remove tumours with robots
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Freyja Christiansen due home to Canberra on Thursday after Australia-first surgery to remove tumours with robots

Six-year-old Freyja Christiansen flies back to Canberra on Thursday, her indefatigable mum Lizzie relieved that Australia-first surgery in Melbourne has bought her daughter - battling cancer for more than a year - more time and given hope to other families across the globe.

Freyja, a student at Yarralumla Primary School, underwent surgeries to remove tumours from her neck and head at the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne.

Freyja Christiansen had previously inoperable tumours removed by surgeries including one with robots. She is believed to be the first child in Australia to undergo such a procedure for her particular kind of tumour and its difficult location at the back of her throat.

Freyja Christiansen had previously inoperable tumours removed by surgeries including one with robots. She is believed to be the first child in Australia to undergo such a procedure for her particular kind of tumour and its difficult location at the back of her throat.

Photo: Alex Murray

Epworth head and neck surgeon Dr Ben Dixon performed the Australia-first pharyngeal surgery by robot.

He said Freyja's young age, the type of cancer and the hard-to-reach location of the main tumour - between the carotid artery and the base of the skull - made the surgery unique.

Freyja still needs follow-up treatment including possibly radiation and immunotherapy but the surgery has bought her more time.

Freyja still needs follow-up treatment including possibly radiation and immunotherapy but the surgery has bought her more time.

Photo: Alex Murray
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"It's the first time that I can see from the literature that a retropharyngeal tumour has been taken out from a child by this method," Dr Dixon said.

It was a difficult procedure in even adults and a previous way of performing it was by splitting the jaw and lip, something that could be avoided in Freyja's case.

Lizzie said the surgery had given Freyja more time - as much as a year - to try to find a full cure for the cancer when she was statistically facing the possibility of death as early as last Christmas.

The tumours, discovered in December, 2016, were previously thought to have been inoperable but had reacted favourably before the surgery to immunotherapy.

Head and neck surgeon Ben Dixon with Canberra girl  Freyja Christiansen, six,  and her mother Lizzie Christiansen  at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Melbourne.

Head and neck surgeon Ben Dixon with Canberra girl Freyja Christiansen, six, and her mother Lizzie Christiansen at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Melbourne.

Photo: Alex Murray

"Thirty-seven surgeons said they wouldn't touch her," Lizzie said, of her desperate fight to save her daughter.

The success of the operations had sparked a huge reaction for other young cancer patients around the world.

Canberra girl Freyja Christiansen says goodbye to doctors in Melbourne including Dr Ben Dixon (right) who performed the Australia-first operation on her.

Canberra girl Freyja Christiansen says goodbye to doctors in Melbourne including Dr Ben Dixon (right) who performed the Australia-first operation on her.

Photo: supplied

"I've been contacted by parents all over the world, inundated in the last week," Lizzie said.

Freyja was due to be discharged from hospital on Thursday morning and would be back in Canberra later that day.

"Clinically she is doing very well at the moment," Dr Dixon said.

The surgeries did reveal active cancer cells that could not be removed without causing life-threatening complications. Dr Dixon said Freyja would require follow up radiation or proton therapy and immunotherapy and her long-term survival was still not guaranteed.

For Lizzie, a single mum-of-three from Denman Prospect, the surgery also gives hope that follow-up treatment can be done in Australia, rather than overseas.

"This buys us almost a year back," she said.

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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