“I remember the beginning, so clearly. It was towards the end of grade 9. I had “settled” into adolescence, and was participating in everything that my high school could offer, I was healthy”, says Nicola Hlongwane, a childhood ovarian cancer survivor.
“Then out of nowhere, I experienced a pain in my lower abdomen and our family doctor said it was just a big mass growing in my abdomen, most definitely benign, I was booked into a hospital in Pretoria to have it removed. After surgery, it was sent in for testing, where it proved to be malignant. Many tests and scans later, I was told I had stage 2 germ cell ovarian cancer. I underwent chemotherapy for three months, and then started my remission journey on the 1st April 2011. It was a short encounter with the dreaded disease, but my world was completely thrown upside down”, Hlongwane added.
Globally, for a rare disease, childhood cancer is on the rise. New estimates by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) show that the global occurrence of childhood cancer is higher than previously assessed. Worldwide, approximately 215 000 cancers are diagnosed per year in those younger than 15 years and about 85 000 cancers in those aged 15-19 years. This means globally, 300 000.00 parents across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economic conditions will be hearing the words “your child has cancer”.
In developed countries, childhood cancer has become largely curable with the overall survival rate reaching between 70% and 80% whereas in South Africa the rate is only at about 50%. CHOC aims to improve this rate through the early detection awareness training which affords early diagnosis enabling a better chance of being cured and that the survival rate increases.
“While I was receiving treatment, my parents and I stayed at the CHOC house in Pretoria, which came to represent more than just a free place to sleep and eat. The house parents at CHOC house were of great help to my parents. They were a fountain of hope, knowledge and a sense of direction. Beyond the financial consequences, terminology you have never heard of, blood tests and scans; a family is just never fully prepared for the journey that lies ahead. I remember sitting in the lounge at CHOC house together with many other families from very different backgrounds, and we would just have dinner, engage, and find joy in the little things. It was the one place, where I was free to take off my wig, and still feel absolutely normal”, Hlongwane said.
Hlongwane said that looking back, cancer was a trying part of her story but that today she is more than a survivor and that she is ready to conquer the world as future CA (SA), and inspire other heroes to keep dreaming.
This Mandela Day, CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa is calling companies and individuals to make a change by donating cash or items to their various regional office wish lists or 67 minutes of their time to their 12 accommodation facilities close to childhood cancer treatment centres across the country.