In 1995 at the age of 4 I knew I wanted to be an actress. I would sing and dance through the hallways of our house in Witbank and I probably drove my parents crazy. In May 1995 my sister, Nicole, was born and I was delighted to have a bubbly new friend. I slowly started getting ill that year with terrible stomach pain and my parents took me to every local doctor only to come home with no true cause of the problem. On my fifth birthday in October that year I was still too ill to play with my friends and celebrate with my family and at that point, my aunt recommended that I should go to a paediatrician in Johannesburg. Blood tests and sonars were done and my parents received a call that soon changed their life.

I had a tumour the size of 12cm x 4cm growing out of my right adrenal gland and was diagnosed by Professor Richard Cohn with stage 3 Neuroblastoma. My parents were shocked. They just found out that their eldest had a life threatening disease with only a 10% chance of survival and had a 6 month old baby to take care of too.

I remember a long time of having no hair, feeling very weak and being tired of having to take “another” needle, “another” drip, “another” round of a word called “chemo” and watching “Lion King” for the millionth time but looking back, I don’t remember the pain or the hurt at all. That is one of the biggest blessings for me and something I admire about children. To me I was just feeling quite sick for a very long time, but it never once crossed my mind that I was actually busy dying. I now understand the saying: ‘have faith like a child’.

Ward 294 at the (then) Johannesburg General Hospital became our home for the next two years. The doctors and staff members were remarkable to say the least. I remember the loving presence of Sister Sadie, Dr. Bernard, Dr. Rosie and the exceptional nursing staff working around the clock to help us get through this. My treatment started with extensive chemo therapy for 3 months to reduce the tumour at 3 week intervals. During this time my family and I stayed in different hospitals for 3 nights to get treated then went back home for 21 days. During this time, I also received a lumber puncture to determine if the tumour had infiltrated my bone marrow but by the grace of God, it did not.

After the tumour had shrunk to a more manageable size, the Paediatric Oncology Physician Specialist, Prof Peter Beale successfully removed the tumour after hours of surgery. He had said to my father that it was a miracle that I made it and I had lost so much blood that an emergency helicopter had to bring blood to the hospital for me. I remember waking up from this operation feeling incredibly weak but being surrounded by love when my eyes opened. My parents were so hopeful and thought that my battle was over, but it wasn’t. After my operation, Professor Cohn decided that the next best step would be a bone-marrow transplant. My bone-marrow was extracted and sent through to Cape Town to be used again after my next treatments were finished. For an entire week I was without  bone marrow and received aggressive chemo therapy in the hope of killing off any remaining cancer cells. I don’t remember much from this time other than feeling very cold and not being able to stomach food.

After my bone-marrow was re-introduced, I stayed in isolation in the hospital for 8 weeks. This was the darkest time. I remember playing with ‘My Little Pony’ dolls with a girl next door who’s complexion was a light purple and whose beautiful full lips were dried and cracked. Soon after I went back to my room to eat something my mom had made, I remember trying to take a bite out of a soft cold mielie (corn on the cob) and saw blood everywhere because my teeth and gums had become so weak. Straight after this, I heard a scream from next door that I somehow knew was a mother’s cry. My friend next door had just passed away. This was not the only brave mother who lost her child. I was the only one in that time of isolation to have survived.

Once my blood counts and platelets were acceptable, my parents took me home and I isolated for a few more months. l continued going for regular blood tests and check ups for years to come and by the grace of God, through the incredible specialists, the relentless love from my family, the staff, CHOC, Reach for a Dream and above all prayers, I made it and am 24 years clean. I am an actress and I truly believe that if you are alive, you still have a purpose.

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my parents and loved ones, but I never once felt unsafe or unloved and it’s because of this that I want to help encourage any child or parent going through the same that they are not alone.

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