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CANSA Service Spotlight – CANSA TLC Staff Working with Children and Teens Affected by Cancer

A few of our CANSA TLC staff share about the work they do to support children and teens with cancer, as well as their parents and loved ones.

Vera van Dalen

(CANSA TLC Nicus Lodge)

Vera van Dalen

Tell me a little more about your journey with CANSA’s TLC Programme?

I started a TLC support programme with the oncology unit of the Unitas Hospital in 1998. (At that time the programme was only focused on the families of children with cancer, and not the paediatric patients themselves).

When my young son Nicus passed away from cancer in 2000, I was invited to the Kalafong Hospital to share my work with children affected by cancer and their families. In 2008, the previous CEO of CANSA, Sue Janse van Rensburg, invited me to collaborate with CANSA in order to extend the TLC support programme and I was appointed as an employee of CANSA.

I was tasked with rolling out the CANSA TLC programme nationally and started with CANSA TLC Nicus Lodge at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. From there we started a CANSA TLC Paediatric Oncology Ward in Pietersburg Hospital (Polokwane) and opened CANSA TLC facilities in Gqeberha, Tygerberg, Kimberley and Durban.

What do you want people who want to support children facing cancer and their families to know?

When you are working with these families it is important to always be mindful of your words and actions. The volunteers who come out to support the CANSA TLC Lodges are worth more than their weight in gold, but they do sometimes offend or wound inadvertently, which is why it is so important to observe and gain insight, before offering words of support or encouragement.

When donating to the CANSA TLC lodges, donors should please keep in mind that the children in the wards are immune-compromised. Make sure that toys that are sponsored can easily be disinfected. (While soft toys do offer comfort, they can’t be cleaned and sanitised easily). Pencils and colouring books keep children occupied for hours and are safe to use and easy to clean. We are always grateful for clean, gently worn clothing for both the children and their parents.

Do you want to share a quote with us?

I have two things that I often say, and that I think is important for everyone to keep in mind.

“When you give, give something that you would like to receive. Secondly, when is the last time you showed someone that you love them?”

We never know how long we have – it is important to show the people we care about how much they mean to us every day.

Bobby Were

(CANSA TLC Paediatric Oncology Ward Pietersburg Hospital, Polokwane)

Bobby Were

How long have you been with CANSA and how did you get involved in the TLC programme?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. During my radiation therapy I saw that there were a lot of children in the hospital receiving cancer treatment.

In 2011 Jan, brother of my colleague Vera van Dalen, who works at the CANSA TLC Nicus Lodge (Pretoria), started the TLC ward in Polokwane. I ran a garden service then and volunteered my services for free. I started volunteering my time in the ward and got more involved with the care and support of the children and their families over time. By 2015 I was appointed as a staff member of CANSA TLC.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about caring for children affected by cancer and their families?

Every case is unique, you should never assume that what worked for one family, will work for another. Take time to understand every person’s unique circumstance and acknowledge how unique their journey is.

Do you have a message for children affected by cancer and their families today?

Your journey is unique. This journey is hard, but just hang in there.

Anthea Lewis

(CANSA TLC Tygerberg Teen Support Room / Western Cape)

Tell us a little more about yourself:

Anthea Lewis

I am a homebody, who loves being at home watching movies. I love to cook. Personality wise, I am definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, I am straight shooting and I love a challenge. Love my work. I got married on 17 March 2023 – my spouse and I are both in the medical field, and it allows for interesting conversation, as we are both passionate about what we do.

Tell us a little more about your journey with CANSA and the TLC Programme?

I started volunteering in 2013 at CANSA, after my own cancer diagnosis, because of my need to share Hope and give back, and what an amazing journey it has and continues to be.

I started working with elderly end of life patients, and found it to be truly rewarding. I volunteered in all the departments of CANSA, but my heart was firmly settled on working with patients. In 2015, I became a CANSA Stipend Volunteer and in 2016, I became the CANSA TLC Coordinator (Western Cape). I have been with CANSA for ten years at this stage.

A memory that stands out was in 2013, when I did my Survivors Lap and Caregivers Lap alone, around the track at CANSA Relay For Life (Athlone). With tears rolling down my face, I made a promise to myself then to be a voice for, and to stand in the gap, for patients fighting cancer.

Please tell us what you value most about your work with children and families of children affected by cancer:

I started in G3, Tygerberg Hospital in June 2016, where I met Kyle Adams. He was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and his leg was to be amputated the next day. I asked him how he felt. He said confidently that it was just a leg, and that he still had life. He was a Smiling Warrior, who sadly died on 25 November 2018. He taught me what it really means to smile despite the storm.

Another story that stands out for me, is about a cheeky girl from Bellville South, Indica Summer Christians, who was diagnosed at the age of seven, with Osteosarcoma in November 2016. Amputation was in March 2017. Indica shares a birth date with Nelson Mandela on 18 July. This girl crept into my heart, no matter what organisation visited her in hospital, she would boldly say that CANSA TLC and Aunty Anthea supported her. In late 2017, Indica boldly asked to be part of a Family Session. She told me that her cancer was back and before I could respond, she told me that she chooses “Quality of Life”.

Indica had so many dreams and her last wish was a Family Vacation, where she recorded voicenotes for her Family and me. I started my dreadlocks in 2017, as it was a personal request from her. I visited Indica two days before she died. She died on 3 September 2018, but I feel that she taught me the true meaning of living.

I could write many stories, there is Cameron September the Thoughtful One, Aaliyah Gala the Playful, Bea Jo Erasmus the Bravest (diagnosed at one month with Stage 4 lung cancer), Jamile Brett, Alton Stewart, Labeeqah Davids, Angela Clarke, Hope Dreyer, Destiny Everts, Chelsea Daniels, Brody Clayford, Zia Kulsen…there are so many more that have passed away, but they have forever left an imprint on my heart.

Those little warriors still fighting inspire me daily and those in remission, we celebrate life daily.

For me, this is not work, it is a calling…

About CANSA TLC

Find out more about the work done through the CANSA TLC programme to support children, teens and young adults with cancer, as well as their loved ones.

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