The McCallum’s Story

At just 9 months old, Zander McCallum was diagnosed with a rhabdoid tumour on his kidney. His older brothers Case and Riley were 3 and 6 at the time. The family had less than three months to make memories with Zander before he died on New Year’s Eve 2019. ‎ ‎

‘We try to look for the positives in life. What Zander’s taught us – that life’s short and you should live it while you can.’

Christchurch parents Tara and Matt McCallum noticed their youngest child, Zander, was unwell. Seeking answers from their GP, they were told he was constipated. On another visit, the doctor told them he had a virus. But they could feel and see a lump on his tummy.

As soon as their eldest son Riley started back at school after the spring holidays, Tara took Zander to A&E first thing in the morning. She showed them the lump – the doctor did a scan then and there, which finally gave them a diagnosis: Zander had kidney cancer. Tara says after their struggle to get an accurate diagnosis, she tells parents ‘you have to find that right doctor, the one who’s actually going to investigate the situation and find out what’s going on.’  

Zander was immediately admitted to hospital where the McCallums were given the worst possible news – his kidney cancer was too advanced to be treated. Doctors removed his kidney and worked to get his symptoms under control. When Zander came in, he had extremely high calcium levels – a condition called hypercalcaemia linked to advanced renal cancer. Tara explains that in an adult, Zander’s calcium levels would’ve caused aggression and discomfort.


Zander was given medicine to bring his calcium down, which then caused problems when the tumour was removed and calcium levels dropped. Only when his calcium stabilised were Tara and Matt allowed to bring Zander home. Once home on palliative care, the family focussed on making lots of memories with him. Zander passed away on New Year’s Eve that year, 2019, having just turned one. ‘He was a Christmas baby – born on the 23rd of December.’  


The McCallums had a fourth son in 2022 – Koby, now two-and-a-half. Tara feels that Koby has helped everyone, especially his older brothers who’d really missed having a baby brother. ‘But they do ask, is this baby going to die too? It’s one of those things you don’t normally have to talk to a child about. We’ve always been very honest with them, and that’s helped them.’


Riley, now 10, received therapy from Kenzie’s Gift last year with Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Simon Hall. Tara explains that they sought out support for Riley when they noticed he was often angry, and reluctant to talk about his brother – particularly in front of his parents. He seemed worried he might upset those around him.  


‘In therapy, Riley had a safe space to talk about Zander and not worry that he was going to upset anyone… He still has his moments, but he’s not where he was last year. He’s a lot more confident and positive than he was.’