Today the world celebrates the lives of cancer survivors, and give hope to the newly diagnosed and educate communities about the disease.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), around 150 per million children worldwide are diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15. In South Africa 70-80 per children are diagnosed and partly due to lack of knowledge, of those diagnosed most are in late stages, which leads to longer treatment, more disabilities, and a lower survival rate. This can drastically improve with more knowledge shared about the disease.
According to Childhood Cancer International (CCI), “In the early 1950s, less than 10% of childhood cancer patients survived. Today, for certain kinds of childhood cancers, especially in more developed and high resource countries, 80–90 % of children/adolescents diagnosed with cancer become long-term survivors. In other resource constrained countries, early diagnosis, available and affordable essential medicines, timely and appropriate treatment, supportive networks of care (e.g. Parents' organisations, cancer support groups) have also improved survivors from a low 5 – 10 % to 20- 30 % or in some cases, all the way up to 60 %.” In South Africa the survival rate is at about 50%.
Although there is much to celebrate; in some cultures survivors and their families face the challenge of stigma and discrimination because they have had childhood cancer. This often makes it difficult for the survivors to resume their lives after the lengthy treatment.
Zhakier Adams a 21-year-old who is a childhood cancer survivor from Manenberg, Cape Town. “I was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 13. I remember in 2010 just after the World Cup, I attended Primrose Park Primary School and each class had to work in the garden to plant seeds and water the garden. It was during this class when I first lost balance and couldn’t walk or stand for a few minutes. I didn’t pay much attention at the time. But this occurred endlessly for a few days, to a point where I couldn’t stand or walk at all.
At the same time, my mother fell ill as well. My parents decided that both of us should go to the nearest doctor. The doctor examined me and he picked up all the symptoms of cancer. The doctor gave us a letter to Jooste Hospital for blood tests. That evening the doctor at Jooste hospital called my father, informing him to immediately take me to Red Cross Hospital.
I was admitted to the hospital and while waiting for a doctor to attend to me, I passed out and woke up in ICU. I woke up and saw my mother crying and still didn’t know what was wrong with me. But my parents knew. Thereafter, I was in and out of the hospital for months. I went through all kinds of treatments; radiation therapy, chemotherapy, x-rays and blood transfusion for 3 long years.
It was during this time that my family and I met CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation. I did not stay at a CHOC House because I lived near to the hospital, but CHOC supported my family emotionally, we received care bags, transport funds, food parcels and all the support that they offer to families and kids in the wards at Red Cross Hospital.
During the time I was on treatment, I attended camps with other kids that also had cancer. The camp was called Just Footprints, and I am now a facilitator at the Just Footprints camp.
I have been in remission for 4 and half years now, and I am first of all very grateful to the Almighty, my parents and family and to CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation for supporting me through my journey.