Hello from Andrea Whatman,
It is such a privilege to be part of all that Kidzcan is, and I am personally blown away by the doctors and medical staff I work with, the people I have met through the work, and, always, the patients. The success of the third year of our Education and Outreach Programme highlighting early detection of childhood cancers has resulted in an increase in the number of new patients we are providing services. Since January of this year, 220 NEW patients have been diagnosed and treated. That is in addition to the patients we continue to provide assistance to in the form of drugs, transport, follow-up testing, and blood products, who had been diagnosed in previous years. And, we can confidently say that this increase is attributable to the workshops we have been carrying out.
This year alone, Kidzcan has held 23 workshops in 14 locations throughout Zimbabwe. We have reached more than 1,000 participants - both within the formal medical sector through hospitals, and in the traditional medical practitioner community. This education programme has accessed widespread areas of Zimababwe. More places have been reached, and as such, more people now know what to look for and where to send the children. They also know the services Kidzcan can offer patients who need the assistance, and can let families know there is help out there for them.
As a result, Kidzcan is able to offer real hope to children that previously might not have been diagnosed, or had been diagnosed, but given no treatment because it was out of reach for the family financially. This is wonderful and ground breaking. It is ensuring diagnosis and treatment for children with cancer in Zimbabwe.
It also means we need to put more effort in to ensure we can meet the needs of these patients. Along with the increased number of patients who reach Parirenyatwa Hospital for diagnosis and treatment, comes extra pressure on the ward - both in terms of actual beds available and demands on staff. This also impacts on Kidzcan’s demands - resulting in increased costs to provide more diagnostic tests, lab tests and the life-saving drugs to patients. We are meeting those demands, but are feeling the stretch.
It is because of donors like you that we are able to grow in order to provide the services to an increased number of patients as they present themselves. With the programme extending to the Matebeleland area by the end of the year, we will expect to see a further increase of newly registered children with cancer come onto the ward. An increase of newly diagnosed patients is what we are seeking. It is why we formed Kidzcan. We cannot, and will not, put the genie back into his bottle. God has made a way for Kidzcan for many years in an environment that was not conducive to thriving. If we could do it under those circumstances, we can continue to do it in the face of increased demand. Kidzcan is the sum-total of many generous hearts and the personal sacrifice of individuals - not only financially, but also, the most precious of commodities - time.
Don’t ever underestimate your specific and individual support, whether it be prayer, encouragement, donations-in-kind, or finances. We simply could not do anything without your input. Hold Kidzcan close in your prayers and hearts, and know that we remain totally committed to children surviving childhood cancer here in Zimbabwe.
Sincerely, Andrea Whatman, Executive Director
This year has been one of tremendous growth for Kidzcan. In 2012, Kidzcan provided assistance to 415 children. It is only the beginning of June, and we have already reached more than 580 children! Many of the newly diagnosed children arriving to Paririenyatwa’s pediatric oncology ward are doing so because of Kidzcan’s education and outreach programme aimed at informing medical professionals and traditional medical practitioners about the early signs and symptoms of childhood cancer, and the services Kidzcan provides.
One of these children is Gerard. He is 4 years old and comes from the high density area of Kadoma, where he lives with his parents. When Gerard began to seem unwell and show signs of a swelling head, his parents brought him to the nearby hospital. They found themselves having to sell personal belongings to pay for the mounting medical bills they couldn’t afford, and yet Gerard’s symptoms continued to worsen.
In desperation, they visited a Pentecostal faith healer to ask him to cure their son. Around this time, this paster attended Kidzcan’s education and outreach workshop held for Traditional Medical Practitioners in Kadoma.
That was in January of this year.
At the workshop, the paster approached Prosper, Kidzcan’s education and outreach officer who was conducting the workshop. He told him about Gerard, and that after learning about the symptoms of brain cancer, he thought Gerard needed to be sent to Parirenyatwa. It is ground-breaking for a traditional medical practitioner to be open to this conventional intervention. This is not the first time we have seen this openness and willingness to collaborate to save a child’s life. It has been an amazing process to experience this first-hand.
Gerard was brought in and admitted onto the neuro-surgical ward - A2. Initially, doctors suspected that he was suffering with hydrocephalus - a build up of fluid on the brain. But, as a result of diagnostic investigations - paid for by Kidzcan - doctors confirmed that Gerard, in fact, had a brain tumour.
Surgery was performed to remove the tumour, but a small bit was left that could not be removed. Gerard subsequently underwent 3 sessions of radiotherapy to shrink the residual tumor. He was also given a drug to reduce intercranial pressure. Kidzcan provided this drug, as well as a shunt - a tube that drains the fluids from the brain to reduce pressure. The shunts available at the hospital are only suitable for adults, so parents must purchase their child’s independently, at the prohibitive cost of $200. It is with the help of our amazing donors that Kidzcan is able to provide this support.
And it is through education that more and more children will find their way to the sole pediatric oncology ward in the country. Education, and instinct, empowered one paster to save the life of Gerard. We hope for Gerard that he will grow up healthy and, one day, tell his 4 year old son about the people who worked together to save his life.
Why do I volunteer with Kidzcan?
Kidzcan volunteers play with the children in the hospital playroom every weekday morning. Play is what a child does best, and we find this a valuable tool for distracting them from their illness, loneliness, and pain. Kidzcan’s group of dedicated volunteers who visit the children to play with them, read to them or lead them in activities are the back-bone of the work that Kidzcan does.
Sally is Kidzcan’s volunteer coordinator. She not only spends time each week playing with children in the ward playroom, but also attends to the needs of our volunteers - liaising with and registering new volunteers, keeping the group in communication, and leading our monthly volunteer meetings.
Here is her feedback when asked why she volunteers -
I had spare time on my hands and knew that I would like to be involved with Kidzcan, so offered my services. This has opened up a new world to me. Initially I was concerned that being with such sick children would be difficult. At the same time, I also knew that if in any way I could make their lives just that little bit better then I had to give it a go.
Going into the playroom and being with the children for a couple of hours a week is an incredibly humbling and uplifting experience. I know it is important that these children get some 'time out' from what is happening to them and are able to participate in activities (whether it be painting, playing card games, playing 'quiet' physical games, singing, etc.) to take their minds off their illnesses. When I see their joy when we play with them, it makes my efforts to facilitate this all worthwhile.
I have always felt that it is important to give something to others, especially to those less fortunate than I am. But I realized it would be a commitment, and unless I was prepared to fully commit myself then I felt I should not offer my services, whatever they may be. I am also a person who generally feels more comfortable when given specific tasks to do rather than seeing what is needed to be done so in the past have been cautious about offering my services.
Volunteering at Kidzcan has put me in touch with amazing folk who give so selflessly of their lives/time and for this I am also very grateful.
A Visit with Karen
“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” I think of this quote from the mouth of a 4 year old, while I sit talking with Karen and her family. How tired they must have been over the past year, and yet, they are all smiling and enjoying time together.
Karen is 12 years old. She was diagnosed with Leukemia last year. Her mother remembers the day vividly. It was November 18, 2011. Karen had been unwell and had a lump on her neck. On the advice of her local doctor, Karen’s mother, Maidei, took Karen to Parirenyatwa Hospital. They travelled from Norton, 45 kilometres outside of Harare. Karen was frail, so she was immediately admitted to the hospital. Both Karen and her mom stayed at the hospital for over a week, waiting for the results, knowing there was a chance that Karen had cancer.
Meanwhile, Maidei’s sister, Daderai, was at home taking care of Karen’s younger brother and the other household members. Daderai and Maidei, work together selling vegetables and fish in Norton. They travel to Mbare, Harare’s largest market, to buy the vegetables and other items, and then to Darwindale, where they buy the fish. These sisters are very close, not only in business, but in their family lives. They were living together and raising their children together when Karen fell ill.
Daderai not only helped at home, but also spent many days visiting Karen in the hospital, where Karen has spent many months over the past year. When Karen came down with an infection in February, she was readmitted and remained there for almost 3 months. She then came back for another 6 weeks when her health failed again in July. Both times, the doctors stopped chemotherapy until she was stable. It was during these times that both Madei and her sister worried that Karen would not make it.
Karen’s aunt tells me about these times and the point at which Karen said, “Help me God, I need a rest. I now surrender.” Such poignant words from a young child. But Karen is a stoic pre-teen. Not many words from her, but what she does share is thoughtful.
Karen leaves the room and comes back with this photo - it’s of her when she’s at one of her lowest points. She wants me to share it so that others can see that you can go from this to feeling well and strong again.
Karen is a typical tween who wants a cell phone so that she can join Facebook and What’s Up - to chat with her uncle in South Africa, she tells me.
Karen is back in school, and seems to have not missed a beat. After missing 3 terms, she has managed to catch up and reenter at her grade level. Her mother transferred Karen to a school that has smaller class sizes after learning of the importance of keeping Karen away from possible sources of infection - crowds tend to be a major culprit. Not only that, but they have moved out of the house they were sharing with Daderai and her family, to further reduce Karen’s risk of infection. This must be a financial burden for Madei, but a sacrifice she is willing to make for her child.
Karen mentions her best friend, Panashe (who happens to be Daderai’s grand-daughter). I ask her what they like to do, and she tells me, “play with dolls, do puzzles and play Uno.” She tells me that she learned to play Uno at the hospital. “Sally, Christine and Vimbai taught me how to play.” She says. “They used to play with me when I was stuck in hospital. And, I taught Panashe.”
Sally, Vimbai and Christine are Kidzcan Ward Volunteers. They visit the children on the wards each week and play games, do arts and crafts, or simply read to the more frail children. Their gift of spending time with the children continues to give long after a child leaves the ward.
Karen seems strong and on the track to survival. She will continue chemotherapy for 2 more years, traveling back and forth from Norton for monthly treatments.
Madei hopes to afford a bone marrow transplant for Karen, however the nearest facility for this is in South Africa. Once she raises enough funds, they will go down there, stay with Madei’s brother, find a donor match, and get Karen the bone marrow transplant. This is beyond the scope of services Kidzcan provides, but we continue to provide services here in ZImbabwe. We hope that Madei and Karen are successful in their efforts to secure funding for the transplant. When it happens, Kidzcan will be here waiting to help when they return to Zimbabwe for their follow up treatments.
Christmas Is Coming!
Kidzcan Volunteers have been busy making Christmas decorations with the children in the A4 Special Playroom. They set up the Christmas trees and decorated them with the children this week, and everyone is excited about the gift-giving on December 13th!
We will send you photos of this next week!
Her favorite singer is Rihanna; she’s an award-winning swimmer at her elementary school; and lasagna is her favorite meal.
Sounds like the average 9 year old girl, right?
But, Mckeena is not your average 9 year old girl. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, which is a solid cancerous mass found in one or both kidneys, usually in children between the ages of 1 and 5.
Some of you may remember Mckeena from the story we shared with you when she was 4 years old and had just completed her final round of chemotherapy.
Mckeena went through 3 months of chemotherapy before her surgery to remove a massive lump on her right kidney, as well as several lumps on her left one. She then underwent a year of monthly chemotherapy treatments, which landed her in the hospital for several nights each month. Followed by the accompanying 2 weeks of feeling sick and uncomfortable.
Now it’s 5 years on.
Mckeena is a healthy 9 year old, and is looking forward to going back to school next week after the August school break. She had her last scan a week ago, at which the doctor told her and her mother, Jean, that she was “all clear”. They do not need to continue to return for their yearly scans - just for check-ups, or if Jean feels there is anything wrong with Mckeena.
Mckeena talks about school and her cousins. I learn that she is such the star swimmer at her school, her classmates call her Kirsty after the Zimbabwean Olympic Gold Medalist. “When you come out of the pool, you’re hungry!” she says. (Coincidentally, Mckeena’s favorite stroke is the same one that Kirsty Coventry swims - the backstroke).
She talks about Sestah, the nurse matron on the cancer ward at Parirenyatwa Hospital. Mckeena spent a lot of time with her over the years, and she misses her, she tells me.
Jean and I talk once again about the time when Mckeena was diagnosed and then undergoing treatment. When Jean speaks about Mckeena’s treatments of 5 years ago, she seems to remember it as if it were yesterday - she speaks about it with complete clarity.
We discuss how it is difficult for the parents, and how Jean continues to go in to visit the ward, and the nurses there. She spends time with Sestah. She reaches out to parents who look forlorn and confused and sad. Trying to give them comfort in the knowledge that their child too can survive - like hers. We also talk about how we have to remember that no matter how hard it is for the parents, it’s that much more so for the child who is the patient, and how sometimes we forget that.
She relates that it wasn’t until she needed a canula (an implement primarily used for the administration of intravenous fluids, for obtaining blood samples and for administering medicines) inserted into her vein once when she was unwell last year, that she could finally understand the pain that Mckeena was feeling with all those sticky needles. “Yeah, it hurt!” intercepts Mckeena.
I ask Mckeena who her best friend is, she tells me about Amy. I remind her about the time we met when she was four and I had asked her who her best friend was - she told me “Francis” (Francis is Kidzcan’s Medical Support Officer). McKeena smiles and laughs when I remind her of this. Francis had spent a lot of time with Mckeena and Jean over the years, organizing scans, and medicine collection, visiting with them on the wards and in the playroom each time Mckeena was an inpatient for chemotherapy treatments.
Makeena and her mom promise to join us for the next outing to Greenwood Park for inpatient children, and we say goodbye.
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