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Fortune Monama (19) is a cancer survivor who would like to encourage others suffering with cancer to “just hang in there and fight”.

Young cancer survivor’s message of hope

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Having been a cancer sufferer who went through nine months of chemotherapy for leukaemia has made a better, stronger person and the reason he has decided he wants to be an oncologist.
Fortune Monama (19) from Seshego was 13 years old when he was diagnosed with leukaemia (blood cancer). “I first knew something was wrong with me during my Grade 7 final exams in September 2012. My neck became swollen, I felt dizzy and sick and I had no appetite,” he describes during an interview at the offices of Polokwane Observer last Thursday.
He said he went to the clinic but they just gave him painkillers and sent him home. “On 24 September 2012 I collapsed while I was writing a final exam. My mom took me to the doctor who drew blood. Two days later we returned to the doctor and I was admitted to hospital for a blood transfusion.”
He spend the whole of October in hospital undergoing a battery of tests as the doctor was not yet able to definitely diagnose what was wrong.
“On 2 November the doctor spoke with my mom and aunt. He told them I had leukaemia and he answered all their questions. Then my mother came and gave me the news. She explained to me what leukemia was and that with chemotherapy I could get better. I didn’t even think of death at the time but I worried about school, my mom, family and friends.”
Monama was immediately transferred to the TLC ward, an oncology ward for children at the Pietersburg Provincial Hospital. He remained there for the rest of the year as they built him up nutritionally with food and supplements in preparation of the ordeal his body was about to go through with chemotherapy. “I even spent Christmas in hospital. My mom cooked every day and brought me the food. My favourite food at the time was atchaar, really hot atchaar. Even the other patients loved it and we ate it with everything,” he recalls.
He went home on 31 December 2012 and returned to the TLC ward on 7 January 2013 when he started nine long months of chemotherapy. “Of course I was unable to attend school. I was just too sick. I would never have made those months without the support of my family and friends and most especially Bobby Were from Cansa as well as a United Nations Peace Corp volunteer Therese Yacoub from the USA,” Monama further says, adding that he will never forget how Were used to tell him to “hang in there”. Referring to the chemotherapy, he said “it was bad, really horrible” but he is quick to add that in the end it was worth it.
In January 2014 he was able to return to school. He has been in remission for three years now and says his experience has also strengthened his belief in prayer and the grace of God.
He is doing Grade 12 this year and says he is doing well and has earned some merit awards. “I want to be a doctor, preferably an oncologist so that I can give back and also help save lives as mine was saved,” he says with a look of determination on his face. He hopes to do well enough to be considered for a bursary as he does not want to be a burden to his family, he adds.
He also plays basketball these days and was part of the provincial team at the SA School Summer Sports National Tournament. “We ended in third place earning us a bronze medal.”
Monama says he spends most of his spare time as a volunteer at the TLC ward and also at awareness events. “Above all I try to lead a fit, healthy lifestyle and always remember God has a plan,” he adds.
His message to other youngsters suffering from cancer or any other life-threatening disease is to fight it. “Just hang in there, don’t give up. It is important to know that cancer is not only for older people. Anyone can get it. But remember it can be beaten with the help of God and by doing exactly what your doctors tell you because they know what’s best,” he concludes.

Story and photo: KAREN VENTER
>>karen@observer.co.za