Joyful secrets of warrior parents

ICE-CREAMS on the beach, silly dances to loud music and lots of cuddles — if strength is survival, these parents are

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Parents reveal what it takes to stay strong for their kids.

In the face of grief, illness and disability, they are creating happiness for their precious children.

Here are their stories.


That was one of the million questions rushing through Jessica Smith’s mind when she learned she was pregnant with her first baby, Ayla.

A Paralympic swimmer, Ms Smith was born with only one arm, and has spent her life dealing with challenges, from serious burns in childhood to depression and anorexia in her teens. Ayla is now two, and Ms Smith has a second baby due in November — and she’s nailed the pram-fold.

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Jessica Smith, pictured with daughter Ayla, two, says motherhood has been her greatest challenge. Picture: Tony GoughSource:News Corp Australia

“Throughout my life my disability has never really been an “obstacle” and I’ve always been able to find my own way of doing things, like tying my shoelaces, doing my hair, painting my nails and driving a car,” she said.

​“​But when I fell pregnant, I suddenly started to doubt myself … I wondered how I would physically do things that I believed would essentially require two hands — how would I put together a pram, and how I would manage putting my new baby into a car seat?

“I had to find a pram that was easy for me to manage, which meant a lot of trial and error but I finally found one that was suitable, with minimal parts.

“I also chose a pram that sat quite high, in order for my left arm to be close to the handle to avoid shoulder pain by constantly being uneven.

“Even things like changing her nappy — we got to a stage where I needed to have something to distract her from rolling over, so I would often ask her to hold or toy or even the wipes so I could at least get her to lay down for the duration of the nappy change.

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Jessica Smith says having a disability has never been an obstacle for her.Source:Supplied

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Jessica Smith, who was born with one arm, swims with her daughter Ayla.Source:Supplied

It seems everything that is ‘child proof’ is extremely challenging if you have one hand.

“Some days trying to do up her car seat is a nightmare, because you essentially need two hands to click everything into place.

“I am able to hold things in place with my arm if she stays still — so of course some days it takes a long time to get somewhere,” she said.

“I try really hard to let (Ayla) lead the way if we go for a walk, it’s lovely to just be in the moment with her while she does what she wants to do.

“She is now 22 months old and I can positively say that together, as mother and daughter, we have found our own way of doing things — our physical ability has nothing to do with our ability to parent our children.


CURLING up together with a Harry Potter audiobook, seven-year-old Carys Bradshaw and her mother Rachel can instantly transport themselves to a moment of pure imagination.

The Northern Beaches family’s life changed forever in January when she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG — a very rare and aggressive form of brain cancer which affects young children. DIPG is inoperable and there is no cure. Carys is now in the UK for treatment, and mum Rachel says it’s the fun times that get them through the hard ones.

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Carys Bradshaw, aged seven, was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“No treatment was available in Australia and we were basically told to go home and make memories — I just could not accept that and I am so grateful that we have been given the opportunity to come over here and be involved in this trial,” Mrs Bradshaw said.

“From the moment I realised what I needed to do to give Carys this chance I didn’t have a single moment of hesitation about giving up everything and getting us here.

“I wouldn’t describe myself as strong — I am a mum who loves my children more than anyone and anything else and I am doing everything I can to get Carys better, and we will do it.

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Carys with her mum Rachel.Source:Supplied

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Carys is currently receiving treatment in Italy.Source:Supplied

“I have my sad days when I have a cry, but I’m no good to my kids if I’m a wreck — so I get up in the morning and do what needs to be done, and at the same time have fun and keep things happy for them.

“Carys and I like to cuddle up and listen to Harry Potter audiobooks.

“I also like to put music on and the girls and I do silly dancing and make up routines — these are my favourite times and they get me through the day.

“Carys and I also often go through photos and videos of family and friends back home — she takes real joy in laughing at funny pictures and videos of her friends.

“Some of her school friends have posted letters, pictures and gifts which Carys has been delighted to receive.

“I don’t have a lot of time for myself but when I can I go to a yoga or pilates class, which helps me de-stress.

“I really believe that taking each day at time, thinking positively and knowing that this is just moment in time, that things will not be like this forever.”


ICE-CREAM at the beach is the simplest of pleasures, and for Anthony Khoury and his son Dominic, 8, it’s also a blissful release from the complexity of their everyday lives.

Dominic was a healthy, happy five-year-old boy riding his scooter at daycare on November 7, 2014, when he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest for 30 minutes.

After emergency surgery and two weeks in a coma fighting for his life, Dominic pulled through. He had a heart arrhythmia called Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia, and was left with a brain injury which has left him unable to walk or talk.

Dad Anthony quit his job to be Dominic’s carer, taking him to intensive treatment and rehabilitation in the US several times a year.

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Anthony Khoury and his son Dominic, was left with a brain injury after a cardiac arrest.Source:Supplied

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Dominic flies with his dad several times a year for specialist treatment in the US. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“Being a parent is the best thing that’s ever happened in my life,” he said. “It can be challenging at times but I wouldn’t change it for anything else in this world.

“In order for Dominic to get the best life has to offer, I need to be his voice and advocate.

“My life can be put on hold whereas Dominic’s life cannot — he needs our attention and assistance now, not in a few weeks, months or even years when it’s too late.

“Dominic is a big fan of listening to music and watching his favourite shows on TV or YouTube — this keeps him very motivated and happy.

“When I’m away with him, after a long and hard week at therapy, we use the weekend to bond and reward his efforts with a trip to the beach to get some ice cream.

“This also is motivation for Dominic to push through to get through a tough week, and I find a stroll the beach is also relaxing for the both of us.

“My advice to other parents is to not give up on hope — when times are tough you tend to lose focus, you have to be patient, positive and persistent.”


ROCKY Balboa is not your typical source of parenting inspiration. Tim Harcourt doesn’t care.

He lives by a famous quote uttered by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place ... but it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”

Mr Harcourt is raising his three children alone after wife Carina Harcourt-Mills died 48 hours after giving birth to their youngest baby. Son Richard is now two, and older sisters Esperanza, 5, Allegra, 4, know all about their Mum.

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Tim Harcourt is raising his three children Espie, two, Allie, one and newborn Richie all by himself. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

“We have pictures and we talk about Carina and I certainly use her as an example for behaviour of treatment of each other and others,” he said.

“Having small achievable goals helps, and also having plans to work towards. “Every night we all cuddle on the couch before bed and we talk and play and giggle.

“I found if I tried to do something special I would only get upset if it didn’t go to plan, so now I’m a lot less hard on myself.”

Mr Harcourt works full-time to support the family, and admits the pressure can be exhausting.

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Mr Harcourt’s wife Carina Harcourt-Mills. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

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He works full-time to support his family. Picture: Ray StrangeSource:News Corp Australia

“I don’t make excuses or blame anyone or anything — that doesn’t help,” he said.

“I just want my children to grow into confident and capable adults and to live happy, healthy lives,” he said.

“To anyone going through a hard time, seek help if you need it and be positive.”


THAT’S Elenor Tedenborg’s nightly question to herself. She comes up with 10 things, every day, and writes them down as a reminder to herself of the blessings she has.

While 34 weeks pregnant with her second child, Ms Tedenborg, now 45, was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. She gave birth to baby Eli at 36 weeks before undergoing chemotherapy days after he was born.

Six months later she has had a double mastectomy and is determined to become stronger than ever, for Eli and his brother Charlie.

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Elenor Tedenborg, pictured with son Charlie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“I’m doing meditation in the morning and at night for anything from 10 minutes to half an hour depending on my time,” Ms Tedenborg said.

“I also try and write 10 things I’m grateful for each day so that I learn to see what I’ve got instead of what is missing, and I try and do exercise most days because I know how much better I feel mentally and physically.

“It is really important to take care of yourself, and I know what price you pay if you don’t do it.

“I have to be careful not to scroll social media too much and at the moment I try and implement time during the day when I turn off my phone completely — that is still a work in progress.”

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Days after Eli was born, Elenor underwent chemotherapy.Source:Supplied

Ms Tedenborg focuses on healthy eating and exercise, which helps her stay positive.

“To parents doing it tough I would say — don’t give up. “Retrain your mind to see the positive things in life,” she said.

“I’ve got three beautiful boys in my life and I want show them that life is what you make of it.”

Originally published as Joyful secrets of warrior parents

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