Young patient creates awareness of child cancers

This picture of Gemma Mills was taken on July 24, five months before diagnosis.

When Gemma Mills, 11, from Barbarossa in Constantia, was diagnosed with cancer in December last year, her family was totally devastated and also caught off guard by all that is required to fight this debilitating illness.

Gemma had been off-colour for sometime but it was only a quick pharmacy visit and finger prick on Christmas Eve that showed dangerously low blood levels. Her parents rushed her to hospital on December 26 and two days later she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia which is a cancer that invades the blood (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets) and bone marrow and reduces the body’s ability to fight even basic infection.

Stan Mars of Good Hope FM invited Gemma for an interview on his show a few months ago and then promised to be her MC for her fund-raiser. He also organised Carl Weber and Dalin Oliver to appear with Marc Lottering. The fund-raiser was held on Friday October 20 at Gemma’s school, Springfield Convent, and attended by about 400 people who gave R60 000 towards her treatment.

Mum Deolinda Delcarne says with only a basic hospital plan in place at the time of her diagnosis, her medical treatment and care has already taken the wind out of their sails financially.

Gemma has endured surgery twice to insert a portal in her chest for the administration of chemotherapy, regular blood transfusions, lumbar taps to extract spinal fluid, bone marrow biopsies, muscle injections, regular and painful prodding of needles to find veins in her chest, her arms and feet.

Every day she swallows a concoction of 32 pills from chemo medication, antibiotics and mood enhancers and many others, to manage the side effects of chemotherapy.

Gemma has spent many months between Red Cross Children’s Hospital and home with limited and controlled contact with others. “We have had to sanitise our home and live under quarantine when Gemma has had no immunity and we have to ensure our own health and wellbeing so we do not transfer any risk of germs or infection to her,” says Ms Delcarne.

Gemma missed six months of school and is happy to be back. She missed her friends and just wants to be a normal little girl with a normal life. When she grows up she wants to be an actress and a director. She loves to write. She wants to own her own coffee shop – with free wi-fi. And she wishes to help other kids with cancer to be brave and have the courage to survive the journey.

“She wants to create awareness of child cancers and help parents to understand how to identify it before it is too late. And to encourage people to donate blood,” says Ms Delcarne.

Gemma has confidence to speak publicly about her journey and was invited as a speaker at the recent Cupcakes for Kids with Cancer fund-raiser held at Ratanga Junction. She is also looking forward to being trained in December as a child presenter and reporter on Red Cross Radio.

After many months of enduring intense, painful and stressful chemotherapy, the next phase of her treatment will last a further two years. “We want to thank all those who have supported us through this unpredictable journey,” says Ms Delcarne.

For further details, contact
the Mills family at 082 850 8233 or email ddelcarme@iafrica.