IT WAS only three months ago that Jai Stefani held the Alberton Football League thirds premiership cup aloft for Fish Creek as co-captain, alongside his dad Ray who coached.
A family trip to Italy followed but upon their return, Jai discovered a large growth had developed in his neck.
He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With the help of an oncologist at Latrobe Regional Hospital, he was referred immediately to Monash Children’s Hospital for intensive treatment.
So far, Ray says his son has responded well. The growth started to shrink within days and all other signs have been positive.
“He fit the criteria for this type of treatment which has become the standard now for people in the 15 to 25 year old bracket.
“It’s been used around the world and the results are good.
“It’s a three month treatment so he’s halfway through, in a best case scenario.”
The new treatment, while intense, limits the long term damage that chemotherapy can cause.
Since his diagnosis, Jai’s mates have stepped up providing constant support.
They all had their heads shaved at Mary MacKillop College on Friday to raise funds for cancer research – and also to buy a little special something for Jai. But they’ve done so much more.
“We just love those boys,” Ray said. “They’ve been fantastic.
“Jai asked me to call them 10 minutes after we found out, and they came straight over and they’ve provided such great support since.
“His girlfriend Jade has also been awesome. She spent the first five days of his treatment at the hospital and every time she came into the room, he’d spark up.
“It’s all helped Jai who’s handled it really well and he’s kept his sense of humour throughout.”
Ray said Mary Mackillop College had also been “amazing”.
“We’ve had regular phone calls and we couldn’t have asked for more support. They’ve signed Jai off for Year 11 – which he was pleased about – and they’ve given Brock and Lara (Jai’s younger siblings) all the support they need.”
Harry McNeil has helped lead the fundraising campaign, setting up a GoFundMe page that’s gone viral.
“We were aiming at $2000 to start with but it’s attracted interest from schools, churches and sporting clubs all around Australia,” Harry said.
“It’s phenomenal to see what can be done when the community rallies together.
“We have a tight school community, and we’re all mates – this is just something extra we thought we could do to help out.”
The tally will comfortably pass $20,000.
Efforts like these have helped give people like Jai access to the latest treatment, and the best chance for a speedy recovery.
Best of mates help Jai through