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Fighting cancer and winning

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

Nine-year-old Katlego Mokgoko shares her story about overcoming retinoblastoma.  Against all odds little Katlego Mokgoko beat eye cancer thanks to the assistance of the Department of Health.

Katlego Mokgoko from Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria, is an unsung hero. Diagnosed with retinoblastoma (eye cancer) at the age of three, in 2015, Katlego conquered the disease after undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and an operation at Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

Her mom, Tamara Mokgoko, says the journey was extremely difficult for the family. “We discovered there was something different about Katlego’s right eye after taking photographs using the camera’s flash. In the photos, her eye was shiny. We Googled ‘shiny eyes in children’ and discovered that, indeed, something was not right.”

After the search results indicated that the little girl could have eye cancer, the family sought medical help. “It was confirmed that she had retinoblastoma,” says Mokgoko. 

After many tests at the Pretoria-based hospital, a doctor confirmed that the cancer had already spread to the nerves at the back of Katlego’s eye and that she needed chemotherapy treatment to try to shrink the cancer.

“I must admit the staff, from the doctors and nurses to the dietician and cleaners, were all so friendly and helpful. They proved to be very dedicated individuals who were patient with us and explained everything to our full understanding,” she says. 

Despite the Mokgoko’s positive experience, public health cancer services face many challenges. To overcome these, the Department of Health has invested in oncology services infrastructure. This means that public oncology centres will benefit from better equipment, which will improve the care they are able to offer.

Health spokesperson Popo Maja says the department is finalising innovative processes to decentralise access to chemotherapy, especially in rural areas. It is also engaging private and other partners to address backlogs that existed previously but were made worse by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The department reminds people to regularly be screened for common cancers and, should they have the disease, to stick with their treatment.

Mokgoko agrees, adding that with young children in particular, parents should take note of anything that seems ‘not normal’ with their child and to seek professional help. She says that when cancers are caught early, there is a better chance of recovery.

For more information about free cancer screening visit your nearest clinic.