Real Life Hope af­ter leukaemia

Bub­bly Zoë (5) from East Lon­don is in re­mis­sion af­ter child­hood can­cer. Lynn Wil­liams spoke to mom Bron­wyn Hol­loway

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

WHEN BRON­WYN FOUND out that she was preg­nant with her first child, Zoë, she hoped and prayed that her daugh­ter would grow up to be a healthy lit­tle girl. But their lives were turned up­side down when Zoë was di­ag­nosed with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia when she was just two years old.

Bron­wyn re­calls wak­ing up dur­ing a fam­ily trip to Port Al­fred in Jan­uary 2012 feel­ing “dif­fer­ent.” Con­vinced that she was ex­pect­ing, she bought a home preg­nancy test to con­firm her sus­pi­cions.

“I al­ways wanted a girl, to the point that I had not even con­sid­ered that I could be preg­nant with a boy. My hus­band Vin­cent and I set­tled on the name Zoë, which means ‘life’ very early on in my preg­nancy.”

Weigh­ing in at 3.5kg at birth, Zoë grew up like any other nor­mal baby. Soon she was a mis­chievous tod­dler ex­plor­ing the world around her and en­joy­ing reg­u­lar play­dates with her cousins.

DEV­AS­TAT­ING NEWS

On Sun­day 24 May 2015 Zoë spiked a very high tem­per­a­ture. The fol­low­ing day she was at the doc­tor’s of­fice. She was di­ag­nosed with a throat in­fec­tion

and pre­scribed an an­tibi­otic, but an­other spike in her tem­per­a­ture had her in the doc­tor’s of­fice yet again the fol­low­ing week. This time blood tests were done. The fam­ily GP phoned Bron­wyn the next day and asked that she and Vin­cent ur­gently come to see her. “I was at work when I re­ceived the call. My en­tire body went cold and I re­mem­ber telling a col­league that I hope it’s not can­cer.”

“The doc­tor was not happy with her blood tests and ad­vised us to see a pae­di­a­tri­cian, who in turn sent Zoë’s blood re­port to the Red Cross Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Cape Town. The pae­di­a­tri­cian rec­om­mended that we do a bone mar­row biopsy just to be safe.

On 3 June 2015 the biopsy was done at Life Bea­con Bay Hos­pi­tal and by 14:00 the same af­ter­noon it was con­firmed that Zoë had leukaemia. “I re­mem­ber the doc­tor putting his arms around me. With the men­tion of just one word my hopes and dreams were shat­tered. A chok­ing fear paral­ysed me and I re­mem­ber ques­tion­ing why this had to hap­pen to us,” Bron­wyn re­calls.

CHEMO­THER­APY Life as the fam­ily knew it changed in an in­stant as Zoë had to start with treat­ment im­me­di­ately. She was trans­ferred to the state-run Frere Hos­pi­tal in East Lon­don where a doc­tor mapped out what the next two years were go­ing to be like. By Fri­day 5 June 2015 Zoë started with her first in­tra­venous dose of chemo.

Zoë’s chemo­ther­apy pro­to­col, for acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia, has lasted many months and even­tu­ally ended in Au­gust this year. It has in­volved count­less in­jec­tions, IVS, the­atre pro­ce­dures, tablets, and the dreaded cor­ti­sone, which caused in­sa­tiable hunger, weight gain, mood swings, in­som­nia and thrush.

As a re­sult of the chemo Zoë lost her hair. For the first six months she was in­cred­i­bly tired as her body re­acted to the med­i­ca­tion nec­es­sary for sur­vival.

The fam­ily lived in the Frere Hos­pi­tal for two weeks and when they were al­lowed to take Zoë home she had to be

HOW IS LEUKAEMIA TREATED?

Ther­apy for leukaemia con­sists of chemo­ther­apy. Other treat­ments may in­clude im­munother­apy or cer­tain bi­o­log­i­cal mol­e­cules, which are still in­ves­ti­ga­tional. kept in iso­la­tion.

A very short list of peo­ple were al­lowed into the Hol­loway home and they had to have their tem­per­a­tures taken and hands sani­tised at the door. It was a very chal­leng­ing time as Zoë could no longer visit any­one, es­pe­cially her cousins, for fear of in­fec­tion be­cause of her low blood counts. The fam­ily, who once lived a busy out-and-about life­style, were now con­fined ei­ther to the hos­pi­tal or their home.

“Your child changes be­fore your eyes. Zoë ate con­stantly and she put on weight from food and wa­ter re­ten­tion. But even though she was chubby and lost her hair, she was the most beau­ti­ful girl,” re­calls her mom. “She never lost the essence of who she was. Through­out she has kept her man­ners, been kind, lov­ing and car­ing to ev­ery­one she meets and I could not be prouder.”

“It has been a very chal­leng­ing jour­ney. Ini­tially ev­ery cry and ev­ery scream dur­ing treat­ment tore my heart to pieces and I could do ab­so­lutely noth­ing to stop it. It has be­come much eas­ier now as she is not so fear­ful of the pro­ce­dures these days.”

At the end of her re­con­sol­i­da­tion phase, which was one of the most in­tense phases of her pro­to­col, just as the fam­ily thought Zoë was out of the woods, she had to un­dergo a blood trans­fu­sion as she de­vel­oped a heart mur­mur. Her heart was work­ing too hard to sus­tain her body. “The blood trans­fu­sion re­ju­ve­nated her. She got the colour back in her cheeks and she was bright and chirpy.”

KEEP­ING THE FAITH Zoë has been on treat­ment for two years. She is cur­rently in the main­te­nance phase, where life has re­turned to a new type of nor­mal.

She still has chemo­ther­apy in pill form ev­ery night, once a month she has to get IV chemo­ther­apy, and she takes 40 cor­ti­sone tablets over five days. Ev­ery three months she un­der­goes a lum­bar punc­ture and in­trathe­cal chemo per­formed in the­atre.

Bron­wyn said the fam­ily would not have coped had it not been for their faith in God, and the love and sup­port they re­ceived from their fam­ily, es­pe­cially her mom, who has been by her side in sup­port for al­most ev­ery pro­ce­dure, and their friends and church com­mu­nity.

“In the first week of our jour­ney I started writ­ing let­ters to Zoë and my sis­ter started a What­sapp group. These be­came part of my ther­apy where I could voice my fears, hopes and the re­al­ity of our jour­ney. “The en­cour­age­ment I re­ceived from the peo­ple on that group helped me stay grounded. My hus­band and I grew closer and as a Chris­tian fam­ily we have re­ally learnt to put our lives in God’s hands.”

GRATE­FUL

Bron­wyn praised the man­age­ment and staff at Frere Hos­pi­tal for the ex­cel­lent ser­vice and for go­ing above and be­yond the call of duty. “Dr Rema Mathew, Zoë’s pae­di­a­tri­cian, has been so im­por­tant in our jour­ney and we as a fam­ily are in­cred­i­bly grate­ful to her. She has shown us such sup­port and love through­out.

“Our re­la­tion­ship with her will be a life­long one as Zoë will need to con­tinue her check-ups through­out her life.”

Since Zoë’s di­ag­no­sis Bron­wyn has be­come ac­tively in­volved with CHOC as a vol­un­teer. YB

The Hol­loway fam­ily – Vin­cent and and Bron­wyn are their daugh­ter’s big­gest sup­port­ers

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