Written by: Pete McNae

Deanna Marsden already has her superhero costume picked out for Saturday’s meeting at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. Eight-year-old Deanna is going to wear her cancer beads; not all of them though, they are too heavy when she gathers up more than 1000 marking the number of procedures she has gone through on her path to good health.

In late 2014, Deanna had an accident at school and went to Nelson Hospital for an X-ray. There, medical staff found a cancerous tumour in her right thigh. Within days, Deanna and her family were on their way to Christchurch Hospital for her first cancer treatments.  Between January and April 2015, she underwent chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumour. By April, her family were told Deanna needed an amputation.

Surgeons said her lower right leg, below the knee, was healthy with the tumour only evident in the thigh. In a rare operation, they connected Deanna’s shin to her hip and rotated her right foot to create a knee joint. Below that, Deanna wears a prosthetic leg. Sound gruelling? It has been.

Deanna’s parents quit jobs and moved to Ronald McDonald House in Christchurch for 10 months as she underwent those 1000 procedures. Dad Adam would do one shift, then mum DJ would fly south, basically crossing at the airport so one parent could be with Deanna while the other was in Nelson with her three sisters. A fifth child, a son, is due next month.

Deanna has had her regular checks throughout 2016 and has been given an all clear with no sign of cancer present. She’s ditched her wheelchair and rarely uses her crutches. And she’s getting back to an active young life, including developing a love for speedway.

“I went to my first meeting at the teams champs in 1997 when Craig Boote had his huge crash,” Adam said. “From then on, I’ve loved it. When the fireworks night was on in Nelson, I thought I could take Deanna and her big sister [Rebecca] along and, I guess I was a little bit surprised but they loved the racing too, Deanna the most.

“We were there last Tuesday when we heard the Nelson club was doing something for CCF [Child Cancer Foundation] and Deanna got really excited. She wanted to tell people about how amazing CCF had been and it was pretty cool that two things that mean a lot to us as a family were coming together.”

Through most of 2015, the Child Cancer Foundation helped with the practical side of the Marsden family’s issues; groceries, financial support, and the emotional stresses and needs that came with being unsure whether Deanna would win her battle.

“There were times, even from that first day in Nelson Hospital, we thought we might lose our girl,” Adam said. “CCF are there every step for so many people. Deanna and her sister are off to a camp this month with other cancer kids – we are more grateful than we could ever say.”

Deanna is back at Tahunanui School, having attended health school in hospital when she could, and is a buzzy eight-year-old girl who is enjoying her school holidays and counting the days til speedway.

“I like Holly [former youth ministock driver Holly Donaldson], I go to the fence to wave to her. And I like crashes.”

She’s mastered her right leg and skips along with Rebecca on the obligatory girl-girl trips to the speedway loos. She’s proud of her beads, too. “I’ve got way more than I can count, they are going to be my superhero costume but not all of them because they are too heavy for me.”

Young speedway fans are encouraged to dress in costume on Saturday with the Nelson Speedway Association offering prizes for the best-dressed. There is also a link to an Everydayhero page on the club’s Facebook page so people can donate to the CCF. Currently the total stands at just over $1200 but the Marsden family, for one, would love to see that rise substantially.

“Until you’ve seen what they do, you don’t really realise how important they are for young cancer patients and their families,” Adam said. “We have been there and I am proud to say Deanna is kicking cancer’s arse. It’s amazing to watch.”

  • Saturday’s Racing for the Kids meeting features the Oxford Court Motel Southern Midget Series and a visit by Christchurch’s modified sprint class. Racing starts at 6pm.