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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