Ronald and friends rally for Kaleb...

IT began in the most innocuous of ways, with no hint of the change it would bring. Evie Smith remembers taking her son Kaleb, 7, to the doctor, thinking his stomach pain was 'gastro'.

A second doctor suggested appendicitis. But when antibiotics failed to improve Kaleb's condition he and his parents were flown to the Monash Children's hospital in Clayton where their worst fears were confirmed.

The diagnosis, of an aggressive form of leukaemia, stunned Kaleb's father, Robbie.

"You don't know what to do, you don't know what to think or how to react," the 30-year-old says.

"I was shattered, it gutted me. He's been so healthy and so active and all of a sudden you get copped with this. I didn't know whether to cry, I didn't know really what to do."

Evie says it was the first time cancer had touched their family.

"It's really the first time our family has been that close to cancer," she says. "You hear of older people getting it, but when it's definitely one of your own, and especially a child, everything is just a complete shock."

Kaleb's condition sent his family into crisis mode. Robbie and Evie had to relocate from Bairnsdale to Clayton and find someone to care for their three other children, Karmen, Kelisha and Kodyn.

Accommodation was the easiest of their problems. Within a week of arriving in Melbourne, the Smith Family found a unit at Ronald McDonald's Monash House, where they have stayed during Kaleb's treatment.

"We didn't even know of the place until it was mentioned," Evie says.

Robbie adds: "If this place wasn't here, we'd have spent thousands of dollars already on motel rooms and trying to keep ourselves afloat. You probably wouldn't be able to do it."

But there are downsides.

"I don't know which is hardest: seeing Kaleb go through all his medication and operations and everything he's going through or not being able to see my other three kids," he says.

Evie has only been home once since coming to Melbourne — to get Karmen and Kelisha ready for school and prepare for Kodyn's first day of kindergarten.

They have also been supported by the Bairnsdale community.

When Riviera Taxis and Hire cars, where Robbie works as a dispatch operator, learned of his situation, they mounted an appeal that raised more than $13,000 to allow him to take off work and be with his son.

The company has also installed collection tins in its taxis..

The cost of staying at Monash House — about $50 a week — is being covered by Robbie's boss, Jen Eaton.

"As soon as we told her what Kaleb had, she started setting up a fund-raising appeal and got tins made up to put in cars for people to donate money in," Robbie says.

"She's supporting us flat out. If we need any money to get through the week, she just transfers some money through to us."

The Smiths are encouraging people to donate to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

"I reckon it's a great cause," Robbie says.

"If this place wasn't here, most people probably wouldn't be able to come down; they'd have to leave their children behind."

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