11 year old Olivia Jones is a vibrant and ordinary young girl facing an extraordinary battle.
As she walked into the Hawthorn football club, you could see stars in her eyes. She walked with a skip in her step, she spoke with bubbly enthusiasm, and she made no secret of what was making her so excited.
“I’m going to meet Hodgey! This is going to be AWESOME!”
Any onlooker would have no idea of the fight Liv and her loving family tackle every day.
“I don’t think Liv realises quite how amazing she is and how much she’s overcome. And what she does overcome on a daily basis,” said her mother Michelle Jones.
Liv has tumours growing in her brain and her spine. For the record it’s called grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma. Some of her daily challenges include anxiety, sensory issues, trouble concentrating, a curved spine, difficulty balancing and problems with impulse control.
The first sign something was seriously wrong came in 2011, when Olivia became sick, but doctors brushed it off as anxiety.
“We went to about nine different doctors, three different hospitals. We kept being told it was anxiety and to go home. I was called neurotic more than once,” Michelle said.
But as parents, Michelle and Colin knew something wasn’t right with their daughter and finally they managed to get Olivia referred for an MRI. It was then that her parents received the heartbreaking news – their only child, then just five years old, had a tumour.
“For a week, we knew it was [a tumour] but we didn't know what stage it was. For all anyone knew at that point, it could have been terminal.
“It was just horrendous. The things that go through your head as a parent are just unbelievable. My brain was planning her funeral.”
But young Liv had other plans. She wasn’t interested in silly words like “prognosis”, she just wanted to recover so she could play again.
“To get to that diagnosis she had to have a very scary spinal surgery, a laminectomy which was really hard on her. And she couldn’t move her left leg after the surgery. So not only were we dealing with a [tumour] diagnosis and chemotherapy, she also had to learn to walk again.
“But she was just amazing. She was only five and she just got through everything with a smile, and just tried her best. She just wanted to learn to walk again so she could play in the play room at the hospital.”
“Even when we left she was told she had to leave in the wheelchair. Nup. She walked out of that hospital on her own two feet. Wobbly, but she never used (the wheelchair), never once,” Michelle said.
That same attitude has followed Liv throughout her entire fight. But even when days were tough, there was one thing which always kept her family cheering together. The Hawks.
“It’s Mummy, Daddy and sometimes George (the dog), we like watching it and we think it’s awesome,” Liv said.
“We sit on the couch, we cheer, yeah we do all sorts of stuff.”
Her father Colin believes football has brought the family closer together during the most trying times.
“It’s about footy, and family, and what we enjoy together. It’s a very good distraction,” he said.
So when Bupa offered the family the opportunity to watch a Hawks match in the calm and controlled environment of the Hawk’s Family Room, they jumped at the chance. Yet again, Liv had other ideas.
“She’s a footy bogan. She got right into it, once that game started she was out in the seats screaming along and booing the Tigers.”
But the surprises kept coming. Bupa also arranged for Liv to meet her idol, Hawks Skipper Luke Hodge, the next week and to run through the banner on August 13th.
When Liv was told about the surprise, “She lit up like Christmas! It just means so much to us to be able to see her enjoying moments like that, once in a lifetime stuff,” Michelle said.
A week later Liv caught up with Luke Hodge, and watching the two unlikely friends bond over physio, football and family, I couldn’t help but feel Hodge was almost just as enchanted as Liv was.
“I had a smile on my face when I first saw her because her first words were “Hodgey! Is that Hodgey?’ he said.
“I could see how much she loves Hawthorn and football, she has more knowledge than half our football club!”
The father of three young kids walked away with a lot to think about.
“We whinge about small minor things, then you see someone like Olivia, she’s bubbly, she’s up and about. To think what she’s been through… it definitely puts your priorities in place. The things we’re going through are very minor compared to what she is, and then to see the spirit she’s doing it in!”
From Olivia’s perspective, meeting Hodgey was just… well… awesome.
“It was awesome! Everything was awesome. He’s like, amazing!” she said.
“It’s so nice to see her so happy, because we know how hard she fights,” her mum said. “She’s not aware of what she’s fighting really, in the same way that we know, so anything that makes her smile like that, it’s something she will remember forever.”
“She actually said when I was putting her to bed that it was the best day she’s ever had. She just loved every second of it. It meant everything to her. It’s usually at bed time that you find out what she’s really thinking.”
Michelle and Colin say there’s nothing quite like a distraction to help the family forget the uncertainty of the future.
“For the last 5 years her tumours have been relatively stable, and she’s really, really well. We do a lot to keep her well… so we were really shocked when the last MRI scan showed the primary tumour in her spine has progressed. That was devastating.”
Family and friends have set up a go fund me account called Olivia's Journey
, to help the Jones family raise money to take Liv around the world.
“We’re going on the dream holiday. It’s Liv’s dream holiday, so that’s what we’re focused on. When we’re back we’ll have another scan and hopefully it will have stabilised. If not, we’ll do what we need to do. And we’ll stop it. We’re going to stop it growing.”
Liv has beaten the odds before, and plans to do it again. She has her adoring family by her side every step of the way, and a new best friend in Hodgey – enough to give this little “Footy Bogan” the strength to keep kicking goals.
If you've got a similar story of bravery and always seeing the positives in life, we'd love to hear from you on our facebook page! #SharingHappiness.