My name is Andrea Strydom; I was 5 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I am now married and will be 30 years old in September.
I am able to share my story because of the emotional support CHOC offers at ward 294 and ward 286 in Johannesburg where I was treated. They managed to ease the stress and fear and reinforced support throughout my treatment. I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia two days before my second birthday, in September 1988. All this I do not fully recall as I was still very young, My Mom took me to the doctor in our hometown, which was Klerksdorp in the North West. I had a blue mark on my shin and one on my chest, which Mom thought did not look very well.
I was referred for blood tests, the results were revealed to Mom and Dad that same afternoon. I was immediately referred to the Paediatric Oncology Unit at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, into the capable hands of Professor Richard Cohn. A bone marrow aspiration was done the day before my 2nd birthday and verified what Mom and Dad had already heard, “your son has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia”, said the Doctor.
Chemotherapy was started on my birthday. The doctor and CHOC social worker explained the diagnosis and the way forward to my parents. The treatment lasted for three years, comprising of chemotherapy and cranial radiation. Throughout the three years, I feared the needles and entering into ward 294 where all the procedures were done. CHOC social workers and volunteers continued to deliver inspiration, shared smiles and happiness, and all this meant a greater fighting spirit for me which then contributed to my mental and emotional state. My three years of treatment finished successfully in September 1991.
I was in remission for 18 months. In 1992, I was preparing to commence school as then I was 6 years old. I relapsed and what was supposed to be my first day of school turned out to be a visit to the hospital where tests were done once again. My mom recalls each and every visit to the hospital as being friendly, courteous and very compassionate; everyone always contributed in making our stay in hospital feel like a home away from home, just like at the CHOC houses.
Today when I think back I often give a lot of meaning to the saying, “you never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.” Giving up is not an option. The hospital became my home away from home, my mom also made new friends with many parents who were also plunged into this long unknown journey of anxiety and helplessness and together competed against long odds and big obstacles which at times felt unsurmountable through the CHOC‘s Parents support groups .
My recollection was always a feeling of relief when on arrival to the hospital we would be greeted by Sister Sadie, one of the founders of CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation who had been a pillar of my parent’s strength as she had experienced it all with her daughter who had also been diagnosed with cancer. Another person very dear to me was Gillian, a CHOC volunteer, whom I was always very happy to see.
During those three years, there were a few limitations for me. Because of the hickman line (line is a central venous catheter most often used for the administration of chemotherapy) I was not allowed to swim. I had to deal with hair loss. At school, when children got chicken pox or some of the childhood sicknesses, I would have to go to hospital in Johannesburg where an injection had to be administered so as to not get that sickness. Even with all the limitations through the CHOC emotional support I overcame the temporary setbacks and came out at the end as a much stronger person.
It is from this past experience that me and my family has a positive attitude and gratitude towards CHOC and what it has done for our family, if a silver lining could be taken out of what our family and I have experienced. It is the excellent job that the good-hearted people at CHOC do to always help others by giving selflessly. This whole experience has taught me the true meaning of “give back to the world what it gives to you”, as so with my story I try to reach out to other young people who are suffering from cancer. Always bear in mind that cancer is only going to be a chapter in your life and not the whole story, you can do the impossible because you have been through the unimaginable.