Finding out at that your child has a life-threatening disease is undoubtedly every parent’s biggest fear. This month, in honour of Cancer Survivor’s Day on 6 June, we spoke to a Ballito mom whose brave little three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia just nine months ago.
Like for most of us, the Bam family’s life was turned upside down when hard lockdown was implemented in March last year. A month later though, mom and dad Alichia and Hennie started noticing something usual about their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Payton.
She was always tired and lethargic and started getting unexplained fevers with no other symptoms. In around June last year she started developing blue bruises in unusual places like on her back. Worried, they took her to their family doctor. “He did routine blood tests and phoned us as soon as he got the results. He said something was not right and her haemoglobin levels were very low.”
The couple were immediately referred to a haematologist and oncologist. The doctor told them over the phone that he suspected she may have leukaemia. “It was very surreal and I honestly thought they had made a mistake and were just reading the blood results wrong. There was no way my child could have cancer.”
Mom and daughter arrived at Parklands hospital that day (a Saturday) and Alichia says it was a mad rush. “It was all so rushed and I had no idea what was going on. Everyone was talking around me and they were poking and testing Payton. It was chaotic.” It was only later that night that they understood what was actually going on. “They told us that Payton had been going into heart failure. Her heart was beating much too fast and her haemoglobin levels were dangerously low. She could’ve died that day.”
Little Payton received her first blood transfusion that night and Alichia says there was an almost immediate improvement. Two days later she started chemotherapy. “Those first days were hard. She was going through so much and, because of Covid regulations, my husband couldn’t be with us, so I was all alone. I cried for four days, but I knew I had to be strong for her. Then I prayed, found my strength and didn’t cry again.”
At the end of August Payton underwent a bone marrow aspiration and her cancer is now officially in remission. She started a ‘maintenance programme’ in April this year, which sees her going for a chemotherapy injection once a month and a lumbar puncture every three months for two years.
“Payton is incredibly strong and has handled everything so bravely,” says proud Alichia. “Our son, Nathan, is eight years old. It’s been really hard for him too, but he’s also been incredibly strong and brave.”
As if fighting cancer isn’t hard enough, it’s been even more challenging for the Bam family because of Covid. “I’m very lucky to work for my husband, otherwise I think I definitely would’ve lost my job by now. I’ve been in the hospital more in the last nine months than I’ve been at home. When I look back though, this past year seems to have gone really quickly. I think it’s because we’ve gone through so much in such a short time. We have our hard days, but we have been blessed with lots of support.”
Alichia says both the Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer and Happy Bundles organisations have been incredible with giving little Payton gifts and bringing a smile to her face and their friends and family have offered them lots of love and support.
“Anyone can get leukaemia, but it does affect a lot of children. Generally, the younger they are the better their chance of recovery. Kids under 10 years old have about an 85% recovery rate. I would encourage parents to keep an eye on their kids and have them checked out if they notice any of the warning signs, like tiredness and lack of energy, unexplained fevers and unusual bruising. Just a simple blood test can clear up any concern. To other parents going through something similar, I would just encourage you to pray, have faith and be strong for your child. If you are sad, they can feel it. You have to be brave for them.”
CANCER SURVIVORS’ DAY
It’s Cancer Survivors Day on 6 June and Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer are inviting people to celebrate their cancer heroes (kids or adults) in June by hosting an awareness fundraiser in their honour. The goal is to offer hope to the newly diagnosed, support for those currently on treatment and to celebrate those who have beaten cancer. You can help create awareness and raise funds by:
Step 1: Pledge to bake 24/48 cupcakes and help raise funds for children with cancer;
Step 2: Register your fundraiser online: https://cupcakesofhope.org/get-involved/host-a-fundraiser/;
Step 3: Bake your delicious cupcakes and ask friends to make a R10/R20 donation per cupcake. You can also host a mini ‘pop up’ at your office, in your neighborhood or at your child’s school;
Step 4: Transfer funds into Cupcakes of Hope bank account: Cupcakes of HOPE, Nedbank, Branch: Three Rivers (198765 or 193305), Account number: 1028740565.
Details: [email protected], 078 139 4930 (whatsapp).
Text: Leah Shone