My heart broke as they walked away, knowing I would never see him again. This gentle, clever 9 year old boy with a devastating cancer.
Born with a rare skin condition Mr N’s life has been hard. Living in rural South Africa with its harsh unforgiving heat, he has had to try to avoid the sun. His skin is extremely sensitive which predisposed him to this aggressive skin cancer on his head and face.
I met him when he was admitted to hospital for radiotherapy; treatment that was not aimed at cure but trying to shrink the tumours and stop the bleeding. It worked for a while but the cancer has continued to grow and is an open wound.
The day I saw him, he had travelled over 6 hours to come and see us in Durban. He has his whole head bandaged with only a bit of his face peeking out. Mr N and his mum are both so grateful for the morphine which is easing his pain. But he is tearful. He just wants to be like other children. We talk about that for a while; the emotional pain, the loneliness and the isolation. He has been happy about lockdown because he can’t go to school anymore anyway. He is too ill and the other children tease him about his head.
We talk about the bleeding. The wound bleeds a little every day. Last week his blood count was dangerously low so his local hospital gave him a transfusion to buy a bit of time. We talk about time – the quality of his time. His burden is very heavy with a tumour that is growing, daily bleeding and dressings, feeling weak and tired. They agree that he is tired – tired of it all.
Their decision after this long and emotional conversation is to keep Mr N at home; avoid the hospital and focus purely on comfort and trying to enjoy the time he has left. Armed with a plan and a bag full of comfort medications, we say a tearful goodbye.
And my heart breaks for another parent who is about to lose their child.
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