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Helping Zak Shepherd

Helping Zak Shepherd

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Zak is 19 years old now & it seems the battle is still not over. At 9 months of age, he was diagnosed with a rare Cancer. Sacrococcygeal teratoma (SCT) is a tumour that develops before birth and grows from a baby's coccyx — occurring in 1 out of every 35,000 to 40,000 live births. 

Over the next 5 years, he relapsed twice and had to endure 2 more 6 month periods of full treatment & tumour resection surgeries. Zak has had so many scans and procedures etc... and chemotherapy drugs, if I said the actual number of Anaesthetics he has had, nobody would even believe me. He has battle scars all over his neck & body, a reminder of the “Children’s Cancer Warrior” he is. Now at almost 20 years of age, he has survived his tough start in life and has gone on to be 15 years clear of cancer.

We have had a few scares along the way and different side effects to deal with as well as some surgeries and follow up’s. Even surgery to remove a plastic clip left in his chest that bothered him. The latest surgery was just 18 months ago to remove jagged spikes of bone at the base of his Spine where his Coccyx was removed in the initial 8-hour tumour surgery he had as a baby.

Now we’re dealing with the fallout from all the Chemo. One drug has physically damaged Zak’s reproductive organs. After being tested recently, they also found no active sperm. This is terrible for Zak, my boy has been through so much already and if there’s anything that can be done to help to change this situation, I have to do it. With new technology, the Doctor’s at Monash Hospital can perform a surgery with a 50/50 chance that inside tiny tubes up inside Zak, there “might” be live Sperm. 

The surgery has to be performed before he starts Testosterone treatment for growth issues (from Chemo) because the Testosterone will suppress the Sperm making it impossible for Doctor’s to harvest anything that “might” been there. Zak’s very keen to address his growth issues which have not allowed his body to grow tall or fill out with masculine body mass. So having the surgery soon would be our way to proceed.

Zak’s small stature bothers him a lot and causes him much anxiety, which he masks with humour. The surgery will cost $10,000.00 which as a single mother is going to be very difficult for me to pay for. I don’t know exactly how much the Testosterone treatments following surgery will be or the cost of freezing sperm if they can find some. I was told it’s around $600-$1000 for the initial start-up & about $500 a year for the storage. Which over 10 or so years will be a lot of money. I don’t know yet how much the Testosterone treatments will cost. 

Zak makes jokes about being the size of a 12-year-old but I know how much it really affects him. He started school late, at almost 7 years of age because of his illness. He missed a lot of school with immunity problems for years but still managed to catch up. He has only just graduated year 12 in Dec 2021 at the age of 19 and a half. He started at Swinburne University this year and so he is still my dependant and will be for a few years yet until he gets the degree he is studying to achieve which will take 5 years.

I am on a disability Pension for autoimmune issues and even had my own Cancer 3 years ago, πŸ™„ Zak jokes that we are “Medically challenged” πŸ˜‚ I’ve still managed to keep a roof over our heads and have made sure Zak has had everything he needed. He is really a great young man, I’m so proud of him, and of course, I want the best for him. I was not raised to ask for help but If there is anyone out there that could financially contribute to the cost of Zak’s medical procedures, no matter how big or small the donation, I will be eternally gratefulπŸ’– Zak and I have pretty much travelled this Journey on our own and I’ve never asked for anything before from any of the many charity organisations. 

I do this for my son, the light of my Life πŸ’– Zak.

Kindest Regards, Martine Shepherd :)

Thanks to our supporters