FAMILY LOVE: Mother and daughter, Nikki and Mandy Atherton.
FAMILY LOVE: Mother and daughter, Nikki and Mandy Atherton.

Young netballer fights for life on her 21st birthday

IN THE week leading up to her 21st birthday, vibrant young netballer Nikki Atherton was on top of the world.

She was living in Seaforth with family, enjoying life by the beach, deeply in love with her boyfriend Josh and in the midst of organising her 21st party.

But Nikki spent just 20 minutes at her party and didn't even get to eat her cake; instead spending the rest of her special day in hospital awaiting surgery to have a golf ball-sized tumour removed from her brain.

Eighteen months later, Mandy Atherton's eyes well up as she looks at her daughter in bed and talks of how she's putting all her last hopes in renowned neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo.

After a doctor's check up following headaches that wouldn't go away in February 2016, Nikki was told she had a large tumour growing in her brain and was flown to Townsville Hospital for immediate operation.

"When we got there the doctors told us that they need to get it out, and Nikki just said 'it's about to be my 21st birthday'," the heartbroken mum recalls.

After the first operation and a three-week recovery she was allowed to return home to Mackay, but by March Nikki and her family were given more devastating news.

"We found out that she had been misdiagnosed and she actually had a glioblastoma multiforme, stage four - the most aggressive kind of brain cancer you can get," Mrs Atherton said.

"We then spent three months in Brisbane doing radiation and chemotherapy, and she was taken off in December, she was actually looking stable and we were getting really optimistic.

"The doctors told us we should all go travel and do whatever she wants, so we went to Bali, she went to New Zealand with her boyfriend, nine of us went on a cruise to the Pacific Islands.


FIGHTING HARD: Nikki in bed during her time in hospital.
FIGHTING HARD: Nikki in bed during her time in hospital. Contributed

"We were going to go to Kakadu but she got too sick after the cruise."

By January this year, scans revealed that another tumour had formed in Nikki's brain.

"We went back for three weeks of radiation in April and then Nikki suffered a brain bleed," Mrs Atherton said.

"Doctors then said there was no further treatment or operation available to her, to go home make her comfortable and that she would likely last another few days, maybe weeks.

"That was nine weeks ago."

Nikki is still fighting hard today, living at home in Seaforth in palliative care with her friends and family by her side.

They are doing their best to remain positive and are now hoping to hear from one last surgeon, Order of Australia recipient Dr Charlie Teo, who might consider operating on Nikki.

"You have to stay optimistic, it's the only way to handle it, somehow she has stayed positive all the way through," Mrs Atherton said.

"It's definitely hard some days. She was the happiest, healthiest girl and the world was her oyster."

Mrs Atherton, who is now her daughter's full-time carer, described how Nikki's once athletic body can now no longer hold her up and has to remain in bed.

"For this to happen to her it's just wrong, it came out of nowhere," she said.

"But she's still fighting. Most people don't make it past the first year and she has.

"We're not prepared to give up."


If Nikki is approved to go ahead with surgery, the procedure will cost the Atherton family in excess of $50,000 on top of existing medical bills.

Members of the community have banded together to get behind Nikki. To help and donate to Nikki's cause, visit gofundme. com/nikkis-ongoing-care.