Being a parent is one the happiest blessings bestowed upon a person. Usually, we are so overwhelmed with joy at the sight a baby in our arms after the nine gestating months that we cannot explain how we feel. It is a moment of pure bliss.
But after just a few years, when your child is in full blossom, when you learn that he or she has a serious disease, your whole world collapses. Here too, words fail to describe your pain. On this World Cancer Day, News on Sunday met two families who are struggling hard to cope with the fact that their children are suffering from a fatal disease called leukaemia.
Krisanand Bundhooa : “Each minute is crucial for us”
The life of the Bundhooa family has fallen apart since 2nd January 2017, when everyone was joyfully welcoming the New Year; the Bundhooas learned a bitter truth: their daughter Geeteeka, aged four, was diagnosed with leukaemia. Since then, their daily life is filled with excruciating moments. On the other hand, the little princess, who was so excited to join her pre-primary school, wasn’t aware that that her dreams would never be fulfilled.
Geeteeka is the first child of the couple. The parents were happily preparing for their child’s admission in pre-primary school and had already bought all her school materials. However, little Geeteeka was not enjoying good health. Her parents noticed that their daughter was not growing at the normal rate.
“At first, Geeteeka was suffering from fever quite often. We used to buy over the counter fever medicines at the pharmacies for her, thinking that she would be back to normal. This was not the case. Another factor was a consistent weight loss. At that same time, her stomach was growing at an abnormal rate. This is when we take her to the hospital,” the father reveals in a painful voice.
In complete denial
After staying for approximately 15 days in hospitals and doing several blood tests, the parents came to know that their only child was suffering from leukaemia. From that moment onwards, their life changed drastically and they were shattered.
“As a mother, I could not believe it. I was in complete denial. I was unable to accept this fact that my daughter’s life was going to end soon. Since that day, as parents we have dedicated all what we had, time, money and encouragement to our daughter,” says the mother.
Holidays, weekends, New Year or Christmas do make any difference in their family. For them, each day is the same and each minute is crucial. Krisanand who was working as a bus conductor, had to leave his job to be close to his family and to take care of their needs.
He started to work as a gardener and performed various other small jobs. “We were living in a small house made up of metal sheet. But seeing the condition of Geeteekha, I started to construct my house in concrete, as she needs a clean and dust-free atmosphere. Till now, the house is in concrete but we can only use two rooms.”
Life at a standstill
Living in hospital for months is not an easy task for any family. “It is indeed very difficult to stay at the hospital. I leave the house under the responsibility of my husband. He has to manage everything, from cooking meals to cleaning and doing laundry. At the hospital, I have to be with Geeteeka all the time. She does not let me go outside, even to buy a bottle of water. I was unaware of what was happening outside. I need to remain on alert mode always and take as many precautions as I could. A small infection can prove detrimental and we cannot afford to lose our daughter,” narrates the mother.
“She wanted to go to school”
During this entire ordeal, Geeteeka, who is at an age where children usually play and enjoy themselves, how does the little girl feel? When we met her, she was very weak and was sleeping on her mother’s lap. She could not talk to us.
But her mother shared how eager the little angel wanted to attend school. “Since we had already bought her uniforms, shoes and bags, she wanted to go to school. When she was a bit stable, we dressed her in her uniform and made her carry her bag. We took her to a nearby school and let her to be there for just one hour. We could see the sparkle in her eyes. Till now, at least, this is one of her wishes that we have fulfilled. Recently, she insisted to go to the beach but unfortunately, we could not do so.”
Geeteeka knows that she is ill and has to undergo treatment. She is being a strong little person and is bearing all the pains. “There are times you can see how much she is suffering. For her treatment, she is given various injections and even had a minor surgery. She cries out of pain and sometimes, she even panics. At other times though, she is terrified.”
In a dilemma
The little girl is following her treatment at Victoria Hospital, Candos. She can remain in hospital for more than one month. Recently, she stayed at the hospital for four months. Her health is unstable. Last year, she went to India for one month. However, due to weakness, her body rejected the treatment and she returned to Mauritius.
“She has started with chemotherapy but the inky danger is fever. We want to go to India for further treatment but we don’t have enough money. In fact, I am in a dilemma. I need to have a room just for her so that when she returns after her treatment, she is able to stay in a clean environment. I am trying my level best to complete the house but it is not easy, as I am the sole bread earner,” he confides.
All that the family wants is to see their daughter in good health and be normal like all other children. “When she was born, we had so many dreams for her. After she was diagnosed with this fatal disease, we were heartbroken but we still have faith in God. The doctor in India said that Geeteeka can be normal again if she gets the required treatment.”
An appeal for help
In order to complete his house and to get better treatment for his daughter, Krisanand appeals to the public for help. “I know that everyone has their own life and difficulties to cope with. We are not asking for a lot. If every person tries to help us in any small way, we can save our child. I am working hard. A little help from the public will give us a boost,” he says.
All those who want to help Krisanand can call him on 59483304 or send some money via this account: 000014223538 (MCB) Krisanand Bundhooa.
Kistnay Pariadhaven:“We are waiting for a miracle”
Many people have helped the Pariadhaven family in their quest for saving the life of their unique child Karen, aged eight. But just a few know about their struggle of over five years now. Their only wish today: waiting for a miracle that their daughter is safe and stable. It was a family living on mere hopes that we met at Ollier, Rose Hill. After so many years of struggle, they are eagerly waiting to visit India in November for some final tests of Karen.
Little Karen was diagnosed with cancer at the age of three. At that age, she had already lost her appetite but at the same time, she gained a lot weight which unfortunately, caused a protruding belly. Her parents found this abnormal and decided to conduct a blood test. Her father still remembers vividly the day when he was informed about his daughter’s health status, as if it was yesterday.
“When I went to take her reports in a private laboratory, the receptionist advised me to meet the person in charge. As soon as I met the in-charge officer, he told me to sit. I refused, as I was already exhausted. He then informed me that my daughter has leukaemia. I had absolutely no idea what this term meant. He recommended that I need to take Karen to the hospital for treatment.” From there started a different pathway for him.
Karen was admitted urgently at the hospital and a doctor asked the family to immediately make arrangements for taking her to India for treatment. “Luckily, we obtained a grant from the Government and transferred Karen to India quickly. In India, the taxi just left us with our luggage at the hospital. We did not know anyone there. Karen was admitted at the hospital and my wife was allowed to stay with her. We were at a loss there and faced many difficulties. When Karen started her treatment, a doctor there told us that there was around 40%-50% that we could save Karen.”
Medical treatment in India, like the one in Karen’s case, does not come cheap. Kistnay needs to look for an amount of approximately Rs 100,000 on a yearly basis, an astronomical sum for him. “This amount comprises airfare for two persons, stay in hospitals, scans, blood tests and other medical expenses. Sometimes, we need even more. It is not easy for a parent whose child suffers from this dreadful disease.”
Rs 600 000 for injections
After one year, Karen was back in Mauritius and followed a treatment at Victoria Hospital. But unfortunately, her health deteriorated again and she was urgently dispatched to India. After some more tests, the doctors found out that the little girl had tumours growing under her lungs and her life was in danger. In order to stabilize her health, she needed six special injections from Belgium, which cost them more than one million.
“Being a driver and my wife a clerk, money was an issue for us. Staying for a year in India was not easy. So, I stayed for six months and my wife for another six months. We relied a lot on the generosity of the Mauritian people and family. If today we have been able to get the best treatment, it is because people have helped us a lot.”
A normal life
Today, Karen is leading a normal life. She is in Grade 3 and going to school. Her mother shares that Karen is a bit of a slow learner, as she did not attend pre-primary school and at the same time, she lost a year in her schooling.
“She knows that her health is fragile and she has to undergo medical treatment. She saw other children like her in hospitals. She is a strong little girl. Now, her reports are showing positive signs. She is living like other children. I take her out but I exercise some caution.”
Karen, who is a shy little girl, shares some words with us. She confides that once grown up, she wants to be a doctor and she will treat children with health issues like her.
November : A decisive month
This November is going to be crucial for this family who has been living a difficult life for over five years now. They are keeping their faith in God and want to hear good news from the doctor. Nevertheless, the family requests the population to remember Karen in their prayers and if they can contribute, so that they may to be able to take Karen to India for an analysis in this November. The father can be contacted on 57589889.
According to the NCR, in 2016, there were 1,342 deaths because of cancer, among which 631 were male and 711 women. The top three cancers in men that resulted in death include lung cancer (20.7%), colorectal (12.5%) and prostate (10.1%).
In women, the top three cancers leading to death are breast (26.2%), colorectal (11.7%) and cervix (6.3%).
Oncology Unit at Victoria Hospital
In the oncology Unit at Victoria Hospital for 2016, there were 31,740 cancer patients for the outpatients. 1,642 new cases have been registered. Around 200 cancer patients attend the hospital daily. 35-45 cases of chemotherapy occur every day. Around 120 patients undergo radiotherapy and around 110 people are treated as inpatients.
Statistics : 2607 new cases registered
Consultant in charge, head of radiotherapy and Oncology Unit at Victoria Hospital, Dr Shashi Sewsurn provided us with some vital statistics as per the National Cancer Registry (NCR). In 2016, 2,607 new cases of cancer were registered.
Among which there were 1,058 male and 1,549 female. Around 54.8% of all the cancers occur in senior citizens. 46.7% of women who are in the reproductive age are victims of cancer. The percentage of children (0-14) suffering from cancer is at 1.6%.
Dr Shashi Sewsurn : “Cancer is not death”
Consultant in charge, head of radiotherapy and Oncology Unit at Victoria, Dr Shashi Sewsurn, make an analysis of the situation of cancer in Mauritius. She explains that cancer is any abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells that can occur in any parts of the body from head to toe in both men and women at any age. She reveals that in Mauritius, cancer is the third disease from which people die.
She states that the most common causes of cancer include: alcohol, smoking, lifestyle and obesity, among others. “In Mauritius, the people have a tendency to eat too much fast food. Some people tend to eat too much barbecue made under coal. Carbon coal is not good for health. Making grilled chicken or meat using carbon coal is dangerous. It is ideal to use the electric oven for barbecues. I will also recommend the Mauritian population to avoid excess of red meat and deep fry foods. In order to remain in good health, it is time to change the lifestyle.”
She recalls that all cancers are one third preventive and one third curable. She requests each and every individual to go for general checkups whenever the need arises. “If you find a lump in any part of your body, difficulty in swallowing, change in the voice or notice abnormal bleeding, consult a doctor the earliest possible. If you start your treatment earlier, your chance to win over cancer is much greater.”
The doctor remarks that in Mauritius there are lots of treatments available, such as surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, target therapy, hormones therapy and immunotherapy.
“Cancer is not death. Chances of survival are on the positive side and there are follow-up procedures. In Mauritius, follow-ups can last up to 30 years. There have been cases where women suffering from breast cancer have enjoyed a healthy life after their treatment. They have even got pregnant, delivered their babies and are leading a normal life. The same occurred with a male patient with prostate cancer who not only got better but also became a proud father.”
She believes that fighting with cancer is hard but one needs a strong morale and support from families.
Top five cancers
- Colorectal (14.5%)
- Prostate (13.6%)
- Lung cancer (10.2%)
- Lip or oral (6.1%)
- Urinary cancer (5.6%)
- Breast cancer (36.2%). There have been 561 new registered cases in 2016.
- Colorectal (9%)
- Cervix (6.9%)
- Ovary (5.7%)
- Uterus (5.2%)