A home for child cancer patients

Home of hope: The Happy Hearts Home in Block 8, Gaborone PIC: FACEBOOK
Home of hope: The Happy Hearts Home in Block 8, Gaborone PIC: FACEBOOK

For years life has been difficult for children living with cancer and their families, more especially those residing in remote rural areas away from Gaborone. Having to travel long distances back home after getting their strong treatment has become a nightmare for these young cancer patients. Mmegi Correspondent NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes about a home that has been established to help

Even though her case was better because when diagnosed with cancer she lived in Gaborone, Bontle Modige says she felt sorry for children who lived in remote rural areas, hundreds of kilometres away from the capital city. After receiving their chemotherapy or any kind of cancer medication, these children would have to travel long distances while medicated.

For those without parents or families residing in Gaborone, the road home to recovery was painful.

“Happy Hearts Home is the answer to all the hardships that those children face,” Modige says.

“This is a welcome gesture for the children, their parents and guardians.

“Most of them are underprivileged and cannot afford to pay for accommodation [while staying in the city]. “After getting medication, children are in most cases discharged a day after.

“With the home nearby, they can be accommodated for a few days while their [little] bodies adapt to the medication.”

She adds that Happy Hearts is good for children as they can also get visitations from cancer survivors who can motivate them to fight and beat the disease.

“Hospitals can be depressing and make children lose hope looking at the atmosphere and things happening around them.

“At least with visitations from loved ones and the caring community members, they can have hope and know that they can beat the cancer,” she explains.

At the tender age of 14, Modige was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. At first she felt a slight pain in her throat but dismissed it as a common tonsil infection, which often afflicted her. The pain worsened, especially during winter and on cold days.

She was eventually diagnosed with the cancer in 2000 and started treatment the following year. The rare nasopharyngeal cancer affects nostrils and the oesophagus, making swallowing and breathing difficult. Modige says it does not spare the neck as well as the head. She underwent an operation and was later put on chemotherapy.

“Chemo is the most painful treatment of them all. I had sores and couldn’t eat or swallow.

“I stayed in hospital for about one and half years.

“I would spend three months in hospital and would be given a week off to get fresh air at home.

“After a week, I would be taken back to hospital for another three months, and then get another week off.

“That happened for the whole year of the treatment period.”

Modige had radiation treatment for six months, but due to complications she returned to chemotherapy. The treatment period affected her studies. In Form 1, she only registered and spent all of the first term in a hospital bed. At that time, she said some people gave up on her thinking she was going to die. However, she defied the odds and survived. Despite being very sick, she went to school but failed her junior certificate exams and decided to go for tutorials the next year where she passed. Today, Modige is a beautiful and healthy wife, mother and sister who loves life and is very keen on educating people about cancer.

“I want to inform people that there is life after cancer. Cancer is like any other disease. It is up to a person to figure out how she or he sees it.

“Do not take it as witchcraft.

“Don’t wait until the disease is uncontrollable,” she cautions.

As a child cancer survivor, Modige is testimony of the support required to help young patients cope with a scary disease. Happy Hearts is providing a home away from home for the young patients to recuperate, become accustomed to the treatment and receive critical peer care from other survivors, before returning home.

Located in Block 8, Gaborone, Happy Hearts was built through the kind assistance of Unik Foundation and is run by the Cancer Association of Botswana (CAB). The home was launched recently as an interim shelter for child cancer patients and their guardians.

Ladies Circle Botswana (LCB) president, Gillian Tengai says the project came about when from a heartrending story involving a young cancer patient the LCB refers to as Tumelo.

The young boy suffered from severe internal bleeding whilst on a bus riding home after undergoing cancer treatment in 2016. According to Tengai, Tumelo and his caregiver had to travel over 1,000 kilometres away from Gaborone since they had no accommodation in the city.

“Upon hearing of this heart-breaking situation, we immediately decided to start a project to build an interim paediatric home for such patients.

“The Happy Hearts Home project is an interim home that will accommodate children and their caregivers who are affected by cancer and are undergoing treatment at special-use centres in Gaborone.

“It is our hope that the Happy Hearts will be a home away from home that will give children and caregivers dealing with this illness one less thing to worry about and rather focus on giving their loved ones the much-needed care and support during this time,” she says.

CAB chairperson, Pele Moleta says at the moment, the organisation only has one interim home that accommodates women cancer patients at Extension 12 in Gaborone. The interim home does not accommodate men and children and therefore they have to go home immediately after being given their cancer treatment at Princess Marina Hospital, resulting in them travelling some distances while in a bad state.

“Happy Hearts will help children and their caregivers and I thank all the sponsors who made our dreams of building a home for children and their caregivers come true. “We would like to build an interim home for male patients next.

“At Happy Hearts, we have partnered with the Ministry of Health and Wellness through Princess Marina for assistance with nursing, ambulance services and food for the children and their caregivers,” he says.

For the children who previously had no place to call home while accessing treatment in Gaborone, Happy Hearts has come to the rescue.

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