Within two months, everything changed for Tauranga's 8-year-old Antonio Pohatu-Barbarich.
The boy who once struggled to sit still has braved a cancerous tumour diagnosis, two brain surgeries, tests, scans, and is nearly finished his first round of radiation treatment.
And his growing strand of courage beads almost doesn't do justice to his fight.
Instead of running and playing like he usually does, he puts his energy into learning to walk and speak again.
His mother, Maringirangi Pohatu, says his grit is inspiring to watch.
"He never cries or moans ... he accepts what's happening and does whatever is required of him with no fuss," she says.
"He's determined to be normal again ... go to school, play tag, play sports, go to birthdays, grow older."
On November 2, Antonio was diagnosed with medulloblastoma - a cancerous tumour at the base of his skull.
It came after five weeks of being sick, which got worse despite multiple doctors' visits to find what was wrong.
As he deteriorated, his headaches got more intense and he was vomiting, while at the same time losing his speech and motor skills.
Antonio was sent to get an MRI scan, and within an hour the family was told it was a cancerous tumour.
Soon after, they were flown from Tauranga Hospital to Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland, unable to process what was happening, let alone go home and get a change of clothes.
"We never suspected it," Pohatu says.
Pohatu explains that the doctors gave her son medication to stop the swelling of his brain and began prepping him for surgery which he underwent the next day.
After seven-and-a-half hours, he came out, with some of the mass still attached to his brain on the area which controlled his eyes.
"He already started to lose his mobility and speech before we got to the MRI, and once he came out of surgery, he had no speech, no mobility."
Antonio had a second surgery to insert a shunt into his skull to drain the excess fluid which he will need for the rest of his life.
Harnessing his desire to be up and running around again, Antonio got stuck into physiotherapy and speech therapy.
"He's been putting in the hard work in terms of self-rehabilitation. It's the determination inside of him that's helping him ... he just wants to get back to normal as soon as he can."
Pohatu says as soon as he was able, he began to take back his independence - wearing normal clothes instead of hospital gowns and cutting off his hospital band to not look like a patient.
He lost a lot of weight because the treatment suppressed his appetite and he needed a nasal feeding tube, which she says he found the most difficult thing so far.
He has started walking again, but loses his balance and gets tired easily, needing a wheelchair for when that happens.
"He had no speech for a while, but managed to get his speech back but he's nowhere near where he was before he got sick."
Next week will be his last week of radiotherapy which will total six weeks, followed by six weeks of rest back in Tauranga.
This is something he is looking forward to, she says, being in his own home with his friends able to visit.
He will then have four months of chemotherapy followed by another few months of rest, continually being monitored with scans and follow-ups.
"[I'm] really hoping for a normal life for Antonio, 2022 onwards."
Pohatu describes their whānau and friends as "pillars of strength and support" - visiting, sending messages or gifts, or giving them space as needed.
Pohatu says her partner, Antonio's stepfather, has been an "amazing" support for them, doing whatever needed to be done in Auckland and Tauranga.
Despite what her son is going through, he hasn't lost his humour, she says.
He works hard daily to overcome speech and mobility challenges, waking up early every day to tackle radiotherapy.
Seeing her 8-year-old boy being wheeled into brain surgery, the scars on his head, and all the tubes coming out of him was one of the hardest things of the past two months.
"Seeing your baby like that ... it's one of the hardest things."
In the first week at Starship, Pohatu had to make tough decisions fast, and work was one of them. She will be a fulltime carer for her son for at least the rest of this year.
She takes this seriously, she explains, and has been enjoying the quality time she gets to spend with him.
Antonio was unable to finish his school year at Merivale School and will be schooled through the hospital this year while he undergoes treatment.
Pohatu says his school surprised him with two large parcels at the ward, the first just four days after they arrived, and the support of the tight-knit school - and preschool beside it - has been heartwarming.
While Christmas was spent in Auckland, Pohatu says the staff, both at the Ronald McDonald House and Starship hospital made the entire month of December special - their usual kindness and compassion with some Christmas flair.
The staff did everything they could to make Christmas special, she says.
Antonio was treated to a Zoom call with Santa, and a visit from The Hits radio hosts Jono and Ben who dressed as elves and delivered him gifts.
Christmas Day was made extra special with a surprise visit from Pohatu's nan.
A Givealittle page has been set up for Antonio.
Funds will go towards accommodation, medical costs, unexpected bills, home modifications to accommodate Antonio's mobility, and day-to-day expenses.
Starship hospital did not provide a comment.
Medulloblastoma is a type of malignant (cancerous) tumour, which develops in the cerebellum - the area at the back and bottom of the brain. It's rare in adults but more common in children.