Kateri Byrnes has returned to the loving arms of her Jindera family after spending a gruelling nine months at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital fighting cancer for the second time.
A life-saving donation of bone marrow from her younger brother Patrick, 13, helped turn the tide for the 15-year-old schoolgirl's most recent battle with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Kateri, who was first diagnosed with AML in September 2019, relapsed in November 2020 and had to return to Melbourne with her dad James to resume months of treatment.
Devastatingly, the first round of chemotherapy didn't work forcing doctors to re-think their options, explains mum Anastasia who needed to stay home with the couple's then two-week-old baby and seven other children.
"They decided to try a bone marrow transplant and our second eldest (Patrick) was a match as a donor," Anastasia says.
"We spoke to him and he took it on like a brave soldier."
So young Patrick travelled to Melbourne with his family for the operation that would put his sister into remission.
"It took him a week to recover," Anastasia says.
"Kateri's got mostly Patrick's bone marrow now.
"It was a hard time for her also because they had to wipe out her bone marrow beforehand."
It's almost impossible for this devoted mum to express her relief and joy at having her beloved daughter and husband home.
"I'm just really happy to have all my family back," Anastasia said after the pair's return on Friday.
"Kateri has suffered a lot and it's helped us really think about what matters.
"It's been nine months in hospital, which is not very fun, but she's getting better and stronger every day."
Extended COVID-19 lockdowns made it particularly hard for the family to visit Kateri in Melbourne with daily video calls the precious lifeline keeping the family connected.
There was a visit at Christmas and some time together in the June school holidays when Kateri was allowed out of hospital.
James, who works for Albury-Wodonga Health and did some hours remotely, stayed by his eldest daughter's side for her entire hospital stay.
"When you get thrown into it, you just get through it," Anastasia says when asked of the toll it's taken on the family.
"The school community (of Saint Mary MacKillop College, Jindera) has been absolutely amazing."
The family had dinners every night supplied by a "meal train" set up from November 2020 to June 2021.
"That really took the weight off my shoulders because when Kateri relapsed I had a two-week-old (Ezekiel) and with seven others at home to care for it was really hard at times," Anastasia says.
"There was a garden maintenance roster that took the mowing off my hands."
Fiona Brown, of Jindera's Next Level cafe, welcomed Kateri home with flowers, cupcakes and vouchers.
Meanwhile good friends Wassim and Marcia Saliba, who own La Maison cafe, prepared a welcome home feast for Friday night.
And while it took 10-month old Ezekiel a night to adjust to the new faces, it's now safe to say every member of the family is delighted Kateri is home safe and sound.
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