Grayson Partridge is a happy little boy. He's only had one birthday, but already he has a reputation for his beaming smile. His mum, Jody Partridge, describes him as "the coolest kid, basically so happy," and always ready to smile.
Behind the smile, however, Grayson is fighting for his life. In February, 8 months old, he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare cancer of the immune system. Since then he has endured six months of chemotherapy, four months on a cancer therapy drug, and now is about to begin several more months of chemotherapy before a bone marrow transplant.
He already has 522 'beads of courage,' representing the treatment and procedures he has undergone, and there will be many more.
Grayson and his family live in Whangarei, but there is a strong Far North connection. His father Alex is the son of Julie and Mark Partridge, who raised their children at Awanui.
Jody said she had taken Grayson to a doctor in late January because he had a mild fever.
He was given antibiotics, but when his neck began to swell on one side they took him back to the GP, and then to Whangarei Hospital, where was treated or what was believed to be an infection.
"His neck was getting bigger and bigger, his fever was getting worse and worse, and he wasn't sleeping the same. He was not himself," Jody said. They pushed for further investigation, and Grayson was transferred to Auckland's Starship Hospital, where he was diagnosed.
"He was only getting sicker, and by the time we got the diagnosis it was almost like a relief, because we thought right, now we know what it is, let's treat it," Alex said.
"It was in the weeks following that the cancer diagnosis started to sink in," Jody said.
Grayson relapsed after six months of chemotherapy, and a scan showed that the cancer therapy drug from the UK hadn't worked either.
"We thought there was a possibility he could be cured. Then we had this scan. It was a very, very hard week," Alex said.
Spending their son's first birthday with him in hospital, in isolation, while he was undergoing chemotherapy, had been particularly tough.
"We weren't allowed to have visitors in the room. We did have a cake, but because we were in isolation we weren't allowed to share it with the nurses," Jody said.
Meanwhile the couple have been unable to work, both needing to be with their son, and are coming under real financial pressure. They are back in Auckland now for the chemotherapy that will prepare Grayson for a bone marrow transplant, and will spend much of the next two months in hospital with him.
But if she's down, Jody is far from out.
"One year of crap for 99 years of awesome," she said. "He's our super hero."
As of yesterday week a fundraising page
(www.m.givealittle.co.nz/cause/graysons-transplant) had raised $22,642, with more to come from Kaitaia's Hope Church (Union Parish), which has a donation box for those who do not have internet access but would like to give. Profits from sales at the small bookshop within the church cafe during November will also be passed on to the givealittle page.