When cancer strikes a child

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PINK SUPPORTERS: From left, Hsopice Grahamstown bookkeeper Janine Peinke, Zelda Elliott and Danel Pruissen, who spoke about 'a mother's experience of cancer' at the Hospice National Breast Cancer Awareness event at the Port Alfred River and Ski-Boat Club last Wednesday

PINK SUPPORTERS: From left, Hsopice Grahamstown bookkeeper Janine Peinke, Zelda Elliott and Danel Pruissen, who spoke about ‘a mother’s experience of cancer’ at the Hospice National Breast Cancer Awareness event at the Port Alfred River and Ski-Boat Club on Wednesday 26 October

A MOTHER told of a family’s anguish and determination when her two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

Speaking at the Sunshine Coast Hospice’s National Breast Cancer Awareness event at the Port Alfred River and Ski-boat Club last Wednesday, Danel Pruissen said she felt like she was looking out on a sea of pink, as all the ladies had dressed for the occasion.

Pruissen’s daughter Laura was diagnosed with childhood cancer at the age of two.  In June 2014, she complained of having a sore tummy and the doctor said it was a side-effect of mumps.  But she was miserable and bloated and they took her screaming to the doctor who noticed she had fever blisters (a sign of a depressed immune system).

At this stage the family went on holiday in Cape Town where they met up with her parents from the United Kingdom.

But Laura was crying about her tummy and Pruissen said they decided: “This is it. We are going to take her to a specialist.”

The doctor said it was not an emergency, but she detected a hollow sound and said she would like to do some bloodwork. When the tests came back, the doctor said: “Call your husband,” and told Danel and her husband Innes, that it was cancer.

Little Laura just wanted to be outside in the sunshine and they went to Camps Bay and had a beautiful day. But the next day after a 45 minute scan, Laura was admitted to hospital, on the third day of their holiday.

They had two hours to go home and pack and Pruissen had to get Laura off the trampoline to take her to hospital.

“Are you sure she has cancer?” asked her granny.  “But whatever you do,” she advised her later, “stay positive or Laura will go downhill.” With a sick granddaughter and a distraught daughter, in the end it was the granny who suffered the most.

Meanwhile Pruissen took her advice and started a gratitude journal.

Within 24 hours of her admittance, her daughter’s heart stopped and she was resuscitated in the intensive care unit.  She had Bergen’s lymphoma which doubles in size every 24 hours, said Pruissen.

Turning up in her high heels and fairy dress, she received five weeks of chemotherapy at the Red Cross oncology ward, and dealt with it better than her mother it seems.

“She was sick and I could not pick her up because of all the tubes,” she said.

All Laura said was that she didn’t like the “yucky medicine” and the plasters that kept her tube taped to her chest.

“The medicine was vile and cancer also changes your tastebuds,” said Pruissen who moved heaven and earth to get her daughter what she wanted when she wanted it.  Something edible in the morning such as yoghurt, might by the evening be inedible again, she explained.

Pruissen would stay with her daughter in the hospital and spend an hour with her older daughter, Emma, when she was relieved before returning to the hospital.

On December 11 2014 they heard that she was in remission.  Her blood counts continued to climb, and the family flew back to Grahamstown.

“It was terrible to see other children in the hospital dying,” said Pruissen, who suffers from survivor’s guilt.

But her daughter survived because they heeded the early warning signs, she said.

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