Childhood cancer awareness-patient story

By: Ms. Karin Voyatjes

My 5 year old-daughter Alexa was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (A.L.L) at the end of October 2018 when she was just 3 years old.

I started noticing bruising on Alexa’s legs, and she also suffered from night sweats. Initially, I did not pay too much attention to this but then started getting concerned when she appeared very pale and tired and had a change in temperament. I also noticed a distinct dark blue bruise behind her ear while she simultaneously developed a fever.

I took her to a paediatrician outside Mediclinic for a checkup and she was misdiagnosed with tonsillitis and sent home with a course of antibiotics.

The following day I decided to take Alexa to another paediatrician, and she ran some blood tests given the concern of bruising, paleness and night sweats.

Within five hours the paediatrician called me instructing me to take Alexa to the emergency room immediately. She was admitted to hospital for further testing.

Her blood counts were so dangerously low that she needed an emergency blood and platelet transfusion the next morning.  This was the first of many blood and platelet transfusions she received during the first year of treatment.  She also had a bone marrow biopsy the next morning and within 48 hours we got the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

As a parent you never expect to hear the words “your child has cancer”. It came as a huge shock and I was in denial and total disbelief for the first few weeks. I was left with a deep sense of anxiety and uncertainty as we started her on a gruelling plan to save her life two days later.

The treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia is intense, beginning with an aggressive Induction phase to kill the cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow, followed up by a consolidation phase of several months to rid the body of any remaining cells.

Alexa has gone through nearly two years of chemotherapy treatment at Mediclinic City Hospital which includes an intense treatment plan consisting of monthly chemotherapy in hospital, daily chemotherapy at home, countless blood tests, around 20 blood transfusions and 20 platelet transfusions, inpatient stays, fevers, sickness, and different chemotherapy drugs that are rotated depending on the treatment cycle she is in. She has another five months of active treatment left.

She has had to endure a lot during the past two years of treatment including pokes, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, hospital stays, and sickness but she is extremely resilient and always bounces back.

She loves playing at home with her dogs and dressing up her dolls. Her favourite hobby is ballet. She finds joy in the smallest of things. Alexa’s infectious smile and resilience amazes and motivates me daily.

I believe that awareness is key to highlighting childhood cancer, the treatment kids go through and some of the long term impact it has due to the intense treatment.

If you want to help raise awareness you can wear a gold ribbon during the month of September which is the international awareness symbol of childhood cancer.  The gold colour represents how precious children are and the resiliency of childhood cancer heroes.

The photo attached shows a snippet of her journey. The photos were all taken roughly six months apart.

  • October 2018- The night before she was diagnosed with A.L.L.
  • May 2019- Inpatient stay during very intense part of her treatment
  • October 2019 – First day back at school since diagnosis
  • August 2020 – Less than six months of treatment left