September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It is now estimated that one in just over 400 kids will be diagnosed with this disease before the age of 15. Depending on the type of cancer, early detection and treatment can result in the survival rate being between 70 and 80 per cent.
Layyah Loock of Mbombela is one of the lucky ones. “After struggling with what we thought was mere flu, my husband and I decided to take our then 12-year-old daughter to the doctor,” says Diana, her mum. “Layyah was put through several tests to gauge her lung capacity, and after struggling with the tests, Attie van Wyk sent her for an X-ray. We took the X-ray back to the doc and he immediately asked us to leave for Gauteng, saying he would call us and tell us where to go. We were directed to the Netcare in Montana, Pretoria where Layyah would undergo a biopsy of her lymph nodes.”
The following day, December 5, 2019, Layyah was diagnosed with lymphoma, a dangerous blood cancer. The Loock family spent the rest of the month in Pretoria, and after undergoing surgery at Netcare Montana to drain some fluid that had formed around her heart, they were referred to the paediatric oncology unit at Unitas.
“Unbeknown to us, this would become a second home for Layyah for the next two years. She started her chemo therapy immediately.” Diana goes on to explain that due to excessive fluid around her heart, her daughter also had to visit the cardiologist and undergo numerous scans to ascertain the damage the cancer had caused to her heart.
“Layyah had been in grade six at Laerskool Laeveld, had been a first team netball player, first team hockey player, was chosen as a prefect and was looking forward to her last year of primary school,” she says.
“All this changed and life as we knew it was turned upside down. Schooling was challenging, as the chemo breaks down your immune system, and as you can imagine fatigues the body, making everything a momentous undertaking. Also, Layyah spent many days in and out of hospital, and was unable to attend school for prolonged periods.”
While this brave girl was undergoing chemo, Covid hit, and the hard lockdown made things a lot more challenging. With a compromised immune system and travel restrictions, her treatments had to be carefully planned.
“Theo Kruger and Judy van Dijk of Laerskool Laeveld went out of their way to ensure Layyah could complete her grade seven year. After extensive chemo, radiation, several blood transfusions and the odd lumber punch, Layyah achieved an 81 per cent pass rate for grade seven!” Diana smiles proudly. Her daughter also received the principal’s award for outstanding achievement and had the best grade for economic and management science. “All this while fighting for her life and being subjected to horrid treatment – what a fighter!”
Layyah has moved into remission, but receives monthly treatments as part of her maintenance period, which does not involve aggressive chemotherapy. She is now in grade eight and attends Hoërskool Nelspruit. “To us,” says Diana, “Layyah’s fighting spirit defines what cancer awareness is about – cancer can be beaten and a normal life can be lived. Through the grace of God and the help, prayers and comfort from the community, Layyah is looking forward to her future. A remarkable achievement by a remarkable person.”