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Hope, the Light in the Toughest Moments

Meet Childhood Cancer Survivor, Zanele

In 1998 I was diagnosed with Germ Tumor Cell a form of cancer in the ovaries, this diagnosis came as a shock to my family because I was at a tender age of 12 years, now how can a 12-year-old be diagnosed with such a disease which most of the time such cancers are diagnosed in adult women who have given birth and here I am and haven’t started my period!

Ooops you are pregnant
It all began with some sharp pain and swelling on my right side just below my belly button, the swelling appeared as if I had an appendix, after taking many painkillers and some home remedies with no success finally it was time to visit the clinic, by then the pain and the swelling was getting worse. After some check-ups and tests the nurse said that I had been naughty and playing with boys cause my check-up showed ”balloon stomach ”and the urine test revealed that I was ‘pregnant’, ooh my mama got into a Mama Panther mode and demanded to see the doctor-manager or whoever the nurse is reporting to. 

Hospital stays 
We waited for the doctor and after he examined me he apologised to my mother, and immediately referred us to Sebokeng hospital for further tests, I was admitted on our arrival and stayed there for 2 weeks, during the hospital my mother said that the doctors haven’t told her what is wrong with me, therefore, she is going to ask them to discharge me. When we got home my mother’s employer contacted her private doctor at Mediclinic Vereeniging and in 2 days I was in his examination room and referred to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, where I was admitted and diagnosed with a germ cell tumour within 2weeks. I had my surgery in December 1998, then January 1999 I was moved to the Pediatric Oncology Unit where I was so scared when I saw all the other sick kids, most of them had no hair on their heads, they looked thin, with somehow skin colour and all the machines that were beeping in this new ward. 


Chemo, chemo and lots of chemo  
My own journey of hair loss and somehow skin colour started by the end of January of the same year. I had 9 rounds of chemotherapy with many others to follow, I had 9 rounds of chemotherapy (9 months) with 4 surgeries in between. The treatment was tough, I remember the chemo side effects just like this morning’s breakfast, vomiting till I would feel like I am going to pass out, half of my beautiful long brown-black hair on my pillow and hat, and developing skin discoloration, mine looked like I was a purple Smurf. 
CHOC made our hospital stays easier and much more fun, we would be treated to camps, lunch outings, birthday parties, presents, celebrities and cartoon figures. These were indeed fun times when one would feel normal and healthy, you could bet that we were not sick after each outing, the chats and the laughter when we got back to our ward where our family back home felt at ease too. I would get a weekend pass out from Thursday to Monday and then back to the hospital again, it was not easy as I was always sick and would come back before the end of the pass out. And yeah, the passing of other kids was the painful thing again, as much as the doctors and the hospital staff tried to be discreet about the news we would somehow find out and this would turn our stomachs upside down. And there are 2 deaths that are just locked in my memory, but that is a story for another time. 

Real-world and recovery 
I was declared cancer-free and discharged from the hospital in November 1999. My family was over the moon including myself, now I could not wait to get back to school the following year. January 2000, I went back to school, this was another journey that I was unprepared for, my hair was more like a newborn baby hair, still thin, and with skin discoloration. The worst of it was when my parents and teachers realised that I lost my hearing ability in my right ear, my sense of touch was not like others. This was now another fight on its own. Before I could get a hearing aid I learned how to lip read and had to learn to write and hold objects tightly or until I could feel them piercing through my hand. I had to these are some of the chemotherapy’s lifelong side effects.  

Life was hard as most of the kids were scared to be around me, sometimes nasty kids would make fun of me, but I was under strict watch from my teachers who made sure that I was not bullied at school, and I took my daily medication. In 2003 I went back to the hospital because I had gallbladder stones… My family and I were scared that the cancer was back!! They were removed, and I went back to school after and continued to soldier on. It was fun and scary to be in the real world. Though I managed to pass primary last year and went to high school and completed my matric in 2005 I had to study 10 times harder than other kids because I had something called chemo brain where one forgets easily. 

It took me years to stop worrying about relapsing and much effort to live my life freely and enjoy every given moment.

Today I am a qualified Social Auxiliary Worker and hold an End-user computing certificate. 

Hello, My name is Zanele Mohlongo and I am a cancer survivor. This year I am celebrating 24 years of remission.

Nurses Day With Lancet

We just wanted to give you a huge shout-out to Lancet for the wonderful gifts that were handed out at the Paediatric Oncology Wards for Nurses Day!

To our nursing staff – your unwavering dedication, tireless service, and compassionate hearts make you true heroes.

Thank you to NCL for adding light to our homes!

Thanks to the remarkable funding from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) our Plumstead and Sybrand Park CHOC Houses have received solar valued at R446,000. This funding is more than just an investment in infrastructure; it’s an investment in hope, health, and well-being. These panels ensure a reliable and sustainable power source, keeping the lights on even during load-shedding. Additionally, solar power reduces electricity bills and the carbon footprint, making the facilities more environmentally friendly.
As we celebrate this milestone at the Sybrand House, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to National Lotteries Commission South Africa and all our donors. Your commitment to our cause fuels our determination to create a brighter, healthier future for every child or teenager who has been diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening blood disorder.
Hedley Lewis, CHOC CEO expressed how grateful we are for the funds received and how we can start to filter the “going green” theme throughout CHOC. Hedley Lewis says “The money which will be saved from this system will be utilised within the house, bringing down our monthly running costs.” 


Advancing Early Detection of Childhood Cancer in South Africa

At CHOC, we’re committed to spreading awareness about the symptoms and Siluan Early Warning Signs (EWS) of Childhood Cancer as part of our Awareness Training and Education Programme.

Recently, we conducted specialised training for a group of dedicated Healthcare Professionals, including nurses and doctors. The focus was to equip them with the knowledge to recognise the symptoms and Siluan Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer.

Our mission is clear — early detection saves lives! By 2030, we aim to raise these survival rates to 60% across South Africa, which aligns with the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC). Therefore, we recruited 22 professional nurses from all over the country to convey hope to communities. 

Last week together with the Northwest Department of Health, we trained several Healthcare professionals nurses and doctors on the early warning signs and symptoms of childhood cancer in Mafikeng.

Our aim is to increase the survival rates of children and teenagers with cancer in the Northwest Province using the IMCI principles.


Tribute to Mum Nomvula

Written for Mum Nomvula by our Chief Social Worker, Lawrence 

Our beloved colleague, known to us as Mum Nomvula and to some as Mum Vigi, was genuine with all of us and true to herself.

We shared many happy and sad moments with her. She was a woman of her word, a straightforward talker who never held grudges.

Mum Nomvula was a true foot soldier in the childhood cancer community. She was strict, professional, and dedicated to serving the children and families affected by childhood cancer. Despite the challenges of public transport, she was the only person on the psychosocial support team to arrive at work as early as 6:00 a.m., ensuring that families arriving in the early hours or the night before received care.

She served with pride and dignity, her life centered around her love for the children and their families.

Beyond her professional role, Mum Nomvula was a mother, sister, mentor, and friend to us all. She could be both firm and friendly, making us feel safe in her presence while also playing a motherly role.

Her illness left the team devastated, and her absence at the annual social workers’ meetings was deeply felt, leaving a void that can never be filled.

In her final days, she was open and honest about her medical condition each time we reached out. She knew she was about to depart from this earth and often spoke about her destiny, assuring us of her love for the CHOC team.

May the fighting, genuine, reprimanding, and committed spirit of Mum Nomvula rest in peace.

Her loving spirit will forever live with us. We love you, Mum Nomvula.

Rest well, Chawekazi.

Comrades 2024

Thank you to our HR Team

Behind every successful organisation stand the unsung heroes who keep the wheels turning — the Human Resources (HR) team. Our HR team works tirelessly to ensure the well-being of every team member, seamlessly handling everything from policy enforcement to office morale. They are the backbone that supports our workplace.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to TK, Ntombi, and Lungile. Your dedication and hard work do not go unnoticed. You ensure that our work environment is not only functional but also enjoyable and supportive. From onboarding new employees to managing benefits and addressing concerns, you are there every step of the way, ensuring that our organization remains a great place to work.

Thank you, for your unwavering commitment and the positive impact you make daily. Your efforts are truly appreciated, and we are grateful for everything you do!

Celebrate with us as we turn 45!

As CHOC commemorates its 45th anniversary, we reflect on the journey that has shaped us into the beacon of hope and support we are today. It all began with the vision and dedication of individuals like Prof Lorna MacDougall, whose pioneering spirit laid the foundation for our organisation.

In the mid-1970s, Prof Lorna MacDougall, a compassionate Scottish doctor with extensive experience in East Africa and the USA, arrived in Johannesburg.

Recognising the need for specialised care for peadiatric hematology and oncology patients, she spearheaded the establishment of a dedicated unit at Johannesburg Hospital in 1979.

This unit, initially situated at the old TMI, later became known as the Children’s Hematology Oncology Clinic – affectionately abbreviated as CHOC, thanks to Prof MacDougall’s initiative.

The formation of CHOC in 1979 marked a turning point in the fight against childhood cancer in South Africa. Inspired by Prof MacDougall’s vision, a group of parents, including Ken Eaton, Winton Woodruffe, and Giovanni Vasta, banded together to provide support and advocacy for children battling cancer.

Despite facing challenges, such as legal restrictions on funding, the unwavering dedication of CHOC’s founders and supporters ensured its continued growth. Notably, in 1981, CHOC received a significant boost when Johannesburg Hospital selected it as the beneficiary of funds raised at a prestigious event, signaling widespread recognition of its vital role in the community.

Amidst the trials and triumphs, two individuals emerged as pillars of CHOC’s mission: Julian and Sadie Cutland. Their steadfast commitment and tireless efforts propelled CHOC forward during its formative years and beyond, ensuring that children and families affected by cancer received the care and support they desperately needed.

As we celebrate our 45th anniversary, we extend our deepest gratitude to Prof Lorna MacDougall, the founding parents, and all those who have contributed to CHOC’s legacy of hope and healing. And to Sadie Cutland, whose unwavering dedication continues to inspire us, we express our heartfelt appreciation for her invaluable contributions to CHOC’s mission.

Together, we reaffirm our commitment to providing comfort, care, and support to children with cancer and their families, honoring the spirit of compassion and resilience that has defined CHOC for 45 remarkable years.

Join us at one of our upcoming events

CHOC Walk up Sani Pass

This year, we eagerly embark on our 15th CHOC Walk Up Sani Pass, standing united with children and teenagers who bravely face cancer or life-threatening blood disorders, alongside their families.

Heartfelt gratitude to all who dedicate this day, every step, to such a noble cause. We look forward to having each of you join CHOC KwaZulu-Natal Region as we ascend Sani Pass, one step at a time.

Registration is R400.00 for adults and children over 16 years and R300 per child under 16 years. Includes a T-shirt and a meal.

Register here

Immortals CHOC Bikers Run

A Bikers event filled with heart and soul.  Come and join the Bikers community from Bloemfontein and raise awareness about childhood cancer and CHOC.

Venue 10:00 Start point Universitas Hospital Parking area 11:00 Mass ride to The Barn Showground      
Price R100pp
Cloth batch and hamburger and chip
Where are tickets purchased?
CHOC Office Econo Optometrist (old DB Building) 

Register here

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