Relaxation room for teens with cancer

Teen cancer survivor Matthew Reed of Constantia.

CHOC House in Plumstead opened a relaxation room for teenagers with cancer, last week, thanks to funding from the MacFarlane Family Foundation.

Childhood Cancer Foundation (CHOC) provides support for children with cancer and other life-threatening blood disorders, and their families.

CHOC Plumstead is one of 13 houses countrywide. Top of their wish list was a separate area where teens could play games, watch movies, study and have their own space.

Plumstead CHOC House opened its teenager relaxation room last week, thanks to funding from the MacFarlane Family Foundation.

Guest speaker was cancer survivor Matthew Reed, of Constantia, who at the age of 7 experienced mild tummy ache and flu-like symptoms. He and his family thought nothing of it and that it would pass, but it didn’t. The pain and fatigue made going to school harder. His parents took him to hospital and where he was treated with “run-of-the-mill flu meds”.

Two weeks later, he was writhing in pain and his temperature spiked.

He had blood tests at Vincent Pallotti hospital, and an ultrasound showed seven tumours in his abdomen. Matthew was admitted to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with stage-2 Burkitt lymphoma.

According to the Cancer Association of SA, this type of cancer spreads and attacks cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes.

“I experienced the worst it had to offer with some days just lying in bed feeling so fatigued. And it was bad timing – the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” smiled Matthew.

But he had support from his teachers at Bishops. Matthew asked for a room with a bed next to a window so that his classmates could check in and help with school work. And his parents spent every night with him. “They never told me what I had. They didn’t know how to explain it. I’m thankful that cellphones were still coming out because I would have explored the internet and it could have scared me to death,” he smiled.

Ten years later, he was officially cleared but his hospital friend, Abdulla Azeez Moosa, was not so lucky. Abdulla had leukaemia and could not get a stem cell donor. “I was cleared of cancer and Abdulla was cleared two weeks before me. He then received news that his cancer had come back and passed away a few days later,” said Matthew. “I asked my parents if I could have died, they said yes.”

Of the teenage relaxation room, Matthew said teenage years were confusing and busy. “It will be a relief knowing there’s a space you can chill, ground, recharge.”

Madeniyah Conradie, 16, is the first teen to use Plumstead CHOC’s teenage relaxation room. She has spent the past ten months going in and out of hospital and away from Riversdale and her family. In December she received bone marrow from her father.

Madeniyah Conradie, of Riversdale, is the first teen to use Plumstead CHOC’s teenager relaxation room.

Madeniyah said a boy in hospital was not as lucky as her. He died because there was no donor. She went home on Monday March 29. She said the teenage room was better for studying than the playroom where the kids were noisy.

Lynn Jooste of the MacFarlane Family Foundation does the honours.

Lynn Jooste, from the MacFarlane Family Foundation, cut the ribbon to the new room, watched by CHOC’s acting CEO Adri Ludick; Ian Reid, who is a parent of a childhood cancer survivor and a CHOC national board member; and CHOC “cow” Nikki Boshoff. The CHOC cows raise funds and awareness of the foundation’s services and projects.

Enjoying the comfy couch, CHOC cow Nikki Boshoff of Table View.
Programme development manager Adri Ludick says CHOC takes in about 250 children each year.