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Simon, Kimberley, Will and Sophie Leonard aboard a Tangalooma boat .

Sophie, 6, in the cancer fight of her life

ALL parents Simon and Kimberley Leonard could do was watch on as their daughter Sophie was carried into an ambulance.

Attached to machines and tubes following bone marrow transplants, Sophie was transported to the new Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

Sophie was the first patient admitted to the medical facility.

"They gave her all the medications and before her stats started dropping they moved her to the next hospital," Kimberley said.

"It was more scary I think for us as parents, watching them get into the ambulance."

A lot has changed for the Leonard family in the years since that admission.

Perched on a skipper's chair last month, Sophie's contagious energy was felt through every inch of the vessel.

Shrieks of joy also came from other children from The Kids' Cancer Project group when, aboard a Tangalooma boat, they spotted their first humpback whales.

"I'm the captain," Sophie, 6, said as she took in the view through a pair of binoculars she had politely sweet-talked the skipper for.

Two years ago Sophie lived in a hospital room.

At just three years old, the little girl with a spirit that could move mountains was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a solid tumour that arises from particular nerve cells.

After 10 cycles of chemotherapy, 12 rounds of radiotherapy and countless other procedures over 18 months, Sophie's unshakable spirit rose above her diagnosis.

She has a 50% chance of survival and a 40% chance of relapse.

 

Sophie Leonard during her cancer treatment.
Sophie Leonard during her cancer treatment. Contributed

Now two years post-treatment, a weekend away in Tangalooma was also just what the doctor ordered for her and her family.

Simon, Kimberley and older brother Will have been with Sophie every step of the way and the excursion was as much about them as it was about their little fighter.

Simon said while they were out of the danger zone there was still a long journey ahead.

"There have been a few side effects including bowel issues, leg issues and her hearing," he said.

"She also has a very low percentage probability of having children."

He said while Sophie made a grand effort to keep up with the other kids she became tired easily.

"We took her out to the school fete last weekend and she was trying to climb up the jumping castle - the other kids would shoot up to the top whereas it takes her a lot longer," he said.

"Her mind wants to keep up - but her body doesn't react quite the same.

"But she always does it." Now excelling as a Year 1 student, Sophie has blown away her educators and parents with what she has been able to achieve.

"She's actually meant to be on a special needs program," Simon said.

"Her current teacher didn't get the paperwork back but she's up with the higher percentage of the class anyway."

The family, finally together again after being separated for two years because of hospital stays, is celebrating Sophie's achievements.

"Only mum was allowed to stay at the hospital," Simon said.

Kimberly said she took 18 months off work and the couple had to live separate lives.

"Simon had to continue paying bills and Will had to go to school and Sophie and I had to do hospital," she said.

But the family has come out the other side of Sophie's treatment.

Kimberley said the unwavering support from the community and The Kids' Cancer Project charity were the main things that got them through.

The project is a national charity supporting childhood cancer research.

 

Children from The Kids' Cancer Project trying to see whales.
Children from The Kids' Cancer Project trying to see whales. Jorgia White

It has committed more than $36 million to scientific projects since its conception.

It was founded in 1993 by Col Reynolds, a man who has dedicated his life to childhood cancer research. When Col was told by the doctors the only way to stop the deaths of these children was through medical advancement, he turned his passion and enthusiasm to raising money for research into childhood cancer.

Kimberley wholeheartedly concurs with Col's mission.

She said she wanted to do everything she could to stop children dying.

"You don't have an option with childhood cancers, so chemo is the lesser of two evils," Kimberley said.

"There are some miracle cases and we are all big believers in miracles.

We met children in hospital who we fell in love with that didn't get those miracles.

"There should be more options, if your body doesn't accept the treatment."

 

Brianna Prebrajensky and Col Reynolds.
Brianna Prebrajensky and Col Reynolds. Jorgia White

Tangalooma Island Resort manager Brianna Preobrajensky knows all too well the long path the Leonards have had to travel.

And she also knows just how vital increased research into childhood cancers are. Like Sophie, Brianna's son Oscar was diagnosed with stage four high-risk neuroblastoma at just three years old.

"During that time my friend was wanting to do a client appreciation night and found out three of her clients had cancer," she said.

"She wanted to do something just for the kids and give them a Christmas gift.

"She got home early one day and got a phone call out of the blue and it was someone asking if she'd like to donate to the Oncology Children's Foundation which is what it (The Kids' Cancer Project) used to be called.

"She thought 'I could do better than that'.

"She turned her client appreciation night into a fundraiser."

Describing it as a "goosebump moment", Brianna was meant to take Oscar to the event but he became too sick.

"He ended up with a fever and we ended up in hospital," she said.

"At that time he was going through a lot of treatments.

Neuroblastoma treatment is horrible for children but the plus side is he's still with us.

 

Bailey enjoys the whale watching adventure.
Bailey enjoys the whale watching adventure. Jorgia White

In another "goosebump moment", the bear used by The Kids' Cancer Project in its Bear Program was named Oscar.

The Bear Program was created in 2009 to bring a distraction and comfort to children going through difficult and scary treatment in hospital.

All proceeds are donated to childhood cancer research.

Brianna said from that bear-naming moment she knew she needed to be involved in the charity.

"I loved they've changed their name to The Kids' Cancer Project because project has a goal, once the goal is realised it's done its job," she said.

"They put all their money into research and all the money into where it counts."

Now Brianna is the driving force behind a partnership between Tangalooma Island Resort and The Kids' Cancer Project. For every whale spotted in the season, $5 will be donated to The Kids' Cancer Project.

"I'm really proud that Tangalooma has come on board," Brianna said.