‘Hello, my name is Caleb and I kicked cancer’s butt’

Posing alongside a painting by 12-year-old Erica Girls’ Primary School pupil Adri Beukes at the Provincial Hospital’s Child Cancer Awareness Day on Friday, are, from left, Caleb Kannemeyer, Dr Elmarie Matthews and Brendan Oberholzer
Posing alongside a painting by 12-year-old Erica Girls’ Primary School pupil Adri Beukes at the Provincial Hospital’s Child Cancer Awareness Day on Friday, are, from left, Caleb Kannemeyer, Dr Elmarie Matthews and Brendan Oberholzer
Image: Deneesha Pillay

They stood tall and proud as they told their stories of “kicking cancer’s butt” – eliciting tears, cheers and numerous hugs.

They might be children, but the little patients who have beaten the odds proved that dynamite comes in small packages when they told their stories on Friday at the Provincial Hospital as Childhood Cancer Month draws to a close.

Parents, doctors and nurses were celebrating the lives of those who had survived, as well as those who had succumbed to, the dreaded disease.

The hospital’s pediatric oncology unit head Dr Johani Vermeulen said the event had been organised as she wanted to honour the nursing staff for going out of their way to raise awareness of childhood cancer over the past month.

“I also want to celebrate and honour our children. We use words like superheroes and warriors to describe them.

“Once you have seen a child battling cancer, it will change your life forever,” she said.

“My favourite English word is ‘resilience’ and these kids have taught me the true meaning of that word,” she said.

She said she also wanted to honour the mothers.

“I know there are many great dads and grandparents who help as well, but today I want to honour the moms who often sit next to beds, hiding their own feelings and fears to do their best for their children.

She said was incredibly proud of her nursing staff.

“When we started this unit, only a few of them had any experience working with children. We grew as a family. I am so proud of all of you,” Vermeulen said.

Leukemia survivor Caleb Kannemeyer, 10, said: “My name is Caleb and I kicked cancer’s butt”.

Leukemia survivor, Caleb Kannemeyer.

Brendan Oberholzer, 12, who is in remission after being diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, said his doctors had become like “aunties” to him.

“It was really bad when my hair fell out,” he said.

“I think faith, hope and love are what carried me through,” he added.

Kudzaiishe Demawatema, 13, who was treated for leukemia, said she wanted to encourage other children to be strong.

“She is one of my favourite girls,” her doctor, Elmarie Mathews-Walton, said.

“Even when she was really ill, she was the most well-mannered child,” she said.

Kudzaiishe Demawatema was treated for leukemia.

Unit manager Sister Phumla Mquku said staff had been visiting schools over the past week to inform teachers and pupils of the early signs of childhood cancer. She said things like a white spot in the eye, lumps on the body, marks and rashes on the skin are all possible signs.

“Don’t ignore it,” she said. “Ask for a referral. Get some help.”

The unit’s first patient who went into remission, Emihle Xhoma, 7, recently died after her cancer returned.

“I spent most of the past two years here,” Emihle’s mother, Nompumelelo Xhoma, said.

“She was my everything. It is not an easy road. You have to be patient with a child with cancer. I had to quit school to be there for her.

“Just give them the best love you can. Spend every day with them as if it is the last,” she said.

Xhoma said she and Emihle were sent home from the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town when doctors decided there was nothing more that could be done for her.

“I asked what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to go to school to say goodbye to her friends. We came to the hospital and she told people she was ‘going home on Friday’.

“That Friday she passed away. God made me strong. I have done all I could do for Emihle.

“To all the other moms in the ward, I just want to say: ‘Love those bundles of joy’.”

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