To Zanele, hope means smiling even in the worst, worst pain.

Let me take you on my cancer journey

Pains and swelling 

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. I worked in an organisation as a Social Auxiliary worked in the Men and Boys victim empowerment programme for 4years. 

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

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