Hope, healing – and heartache

Cancer survivor Iminathi Nelani, 6, enjoys an outing to St George’s Park with dad Thembelani and mom Nandipha
Picture: Brian Witbooi

Families face children’s cancer with courage, but more awareness needed

Tania Deidericks spent hours at her daughter’s hospital bed before she died of cancer in September 2014 – so when her son was diagnosed with a different form of the disease last year, the news was especially devastating.

But the 52-year-old mother is determined to weather the storm with grace – saying the family’s faith is what keeps them going.

Speaking ahead of International Childhood Cancer Day being marked today, Deidericks said watching one’s children deal with illness was a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

Deidericks, of Seaview, spent many nights beside her daughter Ruzanne Cowley’s bed before she died of sarcoma of the liver at 22.

She now spends every waking moment at her 10-year-old son Tian’s bed after he too was diagnosed with the disease.

She said: “It has been a roller-coaster of emotions for us, because it first started with my daughter three years ago and then unexpectedly my son was diagnosed with a different type of cancer last year.”

Tian was diagnosed with bone cancer in December. “It was devastating,” Deidericks said. “We are surviving each day with grace.

“Tian was a very sporty, intelligent and academically strong boy. He has been out of school for about six months now which is hard.

“He has a lot of questions that I can’t always answer but we are big on faith and I believe everything happens for a reason. So we are taking it day by day.”

Nandipha Nelani, 39, of Kwazakhele, whose six-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer in December 2014, said the initial shock was severe.

“We took him to have his rotten teeth removed and he was fine after that – everything was fine in that November.

“Then the next month we started noticing his stomach on the left hand side [getting] bigger and bigger. We took him to the doctors and they told us he had kidney cancer.”

Nelani said Iminathi, who started Grade 1 this year, was lucky to have had a short stint battling the illness.

“Our doctors assured us that because we caught it early it would not be longer than eight months before he was in remission – and that was exactly the case.

“Now he is doing fine. We are so thankful for all the support and help we received from our doctors.”

Tamara van Rooyen, 32, of Westering, said her 10-year-old son Caleb Kannemeyer’s leukaemia diagnosis shocked the family.

“He showed no real symptoms, no tiredness or lack of appetite, and it was a complete shock. I cried for about 10 minutes and then I think I went into survival mode as to how we were going to fight this thing.

“He was quite the champ throughout the whole thing but the biggest challenge was all the needles as well as losing so many of his friends to the illness, but our prayer groups helped us stay positive,” she said.

Van Rooyen said they had home-schooled Caleb in Grade 1 and as he became stronger he was able to join his class in Grade 2.

He is now in Grade 4 and is enjoying a normal life again.

The head of paediatric oncology and the haematology unit at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital, Johani Vermeulen, said there was still a lack of awareness about the existence of childhood cancer, among the public and also among medical personnel.

“I think if I had one wish, it would be to launch a massive awareness campaign of epic proportions in order for these children to get to us for treatment while their disease is still in an earlier phase,” she said.

“We have wonderful stories of hope and healing, even more stories of the sheer resilience and pure faith of these beautiful children – but we have to face the fact that childhood cancer still steals so many lives.”

CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation branch coordinator Lynne Gadd-Claxton called on Bay residents to support their work, saying the organisation was always in need of manpower.

People could also dedicate fundraising events to children with cancer, she said.

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