Making memories for Ethan McCulloch

Ethan is facing his biggest challenge yet with the support of his family. He is pictured with his mother Cathie and younger sister Erin.

Completing VCE, getting a driver’s licence and travelling the world sound like any teenager’s dream but for Gisborne’s Ethan McCulloch they top a bucket list that he is determined to achieve.
Doctors have declared the bright 16-year-old “incurable” as he fights a rare aggressive cancer known as rhabdomyosarcoma, which forms in soft tissue.
His mother Cathie said Ethan’s diagnosis last year had been hard on the whole family and the coronavirus pandemic had created unimagined challenges.
“It’s affected us as a family a great deal and then with COVID it shut everyone out of our lives when we needed support the most. It’s been an ongoing battle. We’ve had to be a very strong family,” she said.
Ethan initially sought treatment for what he thought was a torn calf muscle but as the pain in his leg intensified one month on, an MRI revealed a large malignant tumour.
He was diagnosed with stage four rhabdomyosarcoma. Tumors had also spread to his lungs, abdomen, groin, knee, shoulder and wrist.
He underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy at The Royal Children’s Hospital and was undergoing maintenance chemotherapy until he suffered rare and debilitating side effects.
Ethan developed a motor mononeuritis multiplex resulting in severe weakness in his quadricep muscles and wrists, which may never resolve.
Cathie said the next heart-sinking moment was learning the cancer had returned.
“It’s been tough, but Ethan is so strong. He’s got a good sense of humour and his positive attitude has been so amazing. He has really been the one lifting everyone up,” she said.
The family has faced incredible grief at the loss of Cathie’s mum five years ago to cancer and the loss of her sister who battled breast cancer for 19 years. Cathie also lost her father when she was just 14 years old and Ethan lost his brother (Cathie’s step son) who was six years old when he was tragically taken suddenly in car accident.
“There are so many people out there like me that are going through this – it’s heartbreaking but Ethan’s cancer battle does not go unrecognised without the support of my beautiful daughter Erin and ex-husband Brent. We are a team and have a job to do,” Cathie said.
“People don’t realise unless they go through it themselves – it is probably one of the worst things as a parent that you can ever deal with. I have to search for reasons to smile now and search for happiness in little moments.”
Friend launches GoFundMe
Helping the family create as many happy memories together as possible is family friend Emma Brooksby who launched a GoFundMe page in November.
She aims to raise $5000 for the family, which will help Ethan achieve some of his goals like driving his first car and a family holiday to make memories.
Emma is principal of Riddells Creek Primary School where Cathie teaches and said she felt she had to find a way to help out.
“They are such a beautiful family and they have experienced such loss,” Emma said.
“I would love to see Ethan achieve the things he wants to do. The community support and spirit has been really great.”
Ethan is also determined to finish VCE next year at Sacred Heart College and he’s not afraid of a challenge. He will be tackling Russian language – a new interest he has found.
Travelling to Europe with his family, especially to Russia, is another big dream Ethan hopes to achieve.
Ethan said his school, family and friends continued to show “magnificent support” as he faced his toughest challenge yet.
“I like to say I’m not fazed by all of this but that’s not entirely true,” Ethan said.
“You can’t blow this thing away like it is nothing but you can’t let it stop you from doing the things you want to do. “You’ve got to keep pushing and keep going.”
Donations can still be made to the Making Memories for Ethan McCulloch GoFundMe page. Visit: