Choc educates about cancer warning signs

LAUREN O’CONNOR-MAY

By the time you feel pain, it’s too late,” says Lyn-nette Muthuray, region-al manager for the Children’s Haematology Oncology Clinics (CHOC).

Ms Muthuray explained that it’s easier to spot cancer symptoms in children than in adults but, apart from headaches, pain is not generally a symptom. “If the cancer is caught early there is a 90 percent chance of success,” Ms Muthuray said. “Parents need to be aware of the warning signs.”

These include spots in the eye, a new squint, bulging eyeball, new blindness, lumps in the abdomen, pelvis, head, neck, limbs, testes or glands, prolonged fever – for more than two weeks, weight loss, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, easy fractures, aches in joints, bones or back or neurological deterioration, such as a change in balance, walk or speech, and a regression in milestones. The child need not have all the symptoms before one should be concerned. Having just one of the symptoms is enough of a warning sign.“And childhood cancer is on the increase,” she said.

Ms Muthuray was speaking at the fourth anniversary of the Choc House in Bergvliet on Friday May 20. The house functions as a temporary home to children with cancer, who live far from treatment centres. It is one of 13 houses across the country, all of which is linked to cancer treatment centres. Another such house is in Plumstead. Children and their carers live at the house for the duration of the treatment.

“We’ve had children coming from as far away as Ghana,” said Ineka Wolfaardt, one half of the husband and wife team managing the Choc House.

The Choc House’s lifespan may be relatively short in Bergvliet but the national childhood cancer association, which offers support and advice to the families of children with cancer, has been around for 37 years.

It was started in Johannesburg by a group of parents whose children were diagnosed with cancer and life-threatening blood disorders. In 2000 it became a national organisation. The successful non-profit organisation offers a range of physical, psychological and sometimes even financial support services to the families of children with cancer. This support is provided by other parents, social workers, social auxiliary workers, and volunteers.

But despite its success, the organisation, and the house in Bergvliet still has many challenges. Feeding eight people can be a challenge, Ms Muthuray says, explaining that every child who stays at the house is accompanied by a carer.

“Feeding eight people is very expensive,” Ms Muthuray said, adding that leukaemia patients come with three extra people: the carer, the donor and the donor’s carer.

Some families come from very poor areas and need more support.

“Some come with just a carry bag and they’re going to stay for up to six months,” said Neville Wolfaardt, the Bergvliet house manager and driver.

As a result the Bergvliet house is asking for donations of good second-hand clothes, toiletries, tinned foods, noodles or instant soup. For more information or to donate, call or fax 086 110 6441 or email wcape@choc.org.za