Karabo Nstiane – Thriving toddler
Kegomoditswe Nstiane shares the journey of her daughter, Karabo, who was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma at four months, and how she is now an energetic three-year-old who is thriving.
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Karabo Nstiane (3) lives in Krugersdorp, Gauteng with her parents, Kegomoditswe Nstiane and Herbert Matlhole, and her older brother, Koketso.
When Karabo was four months old, her mother, Kegomoditswe, noticed her tummy was swollen. “I thought it was from the formula I was giving her as I was mix-feeding her with breast milk and formula. I took her to the local clinic and from there we were referred to a local hospital where various scans were done over a period of two weeks. They then referred us to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) and surprisingly Karabo was admitted that same day. I had to come home via taxi to get clothes for us; it was so hard to leave her there with people I don’t know or trust. I cried all the way home and even left my phone and bag in the taxi but thankfully I managed to get them back and quickly went back to the hospital,” Kegomoditswe explains.
More tests were done, and on 28 August 2020, the doctors confirmed Karabo had hepatoblastoma (liver cancer).
“At first I thought the doctor was joking as I never knew children got cancer and it was only once Karabo was diagnosed that I found out my grandfather had throat cancer and my grandmotherhad cervical cancer.”
Chemotherapy (10 cycles) was started three days later. A port was inserted after struggling to find veins and to make the process less traumatic for the four-month-old baby.
Kegomoditswe explains, “We would stay in the hospital from Sun to Thurs for the cycle and then go home and have a break for a week then come back on a Thurs for the next cycle and so on. Karabo suffered a lot with infections; when she was in hospital after chemo she was fine but the minute we got home she would get sick and we would have to go back to hospital.
I think the distance of coming home using public transport (three taxis) played a part. We once hired a car which was better for Karabo, but this was too expensive to maintain.”
Once chemotherapy was finished, Karabo underwent surgery, in January 2021, to remove the cancerous part of the liver. “Karabo was a strong baby, even the nurses said so, as after surgery in ICU she was already playing and was smiling.”
A month after surgery, Karabo had another cycle of chemotherapy then in May she started radiation at Steve Biko Academic Hospital (SBAH). Both mother and child stayed at the CANSA TLC Nicus Lodge which offers accommodation to parents of children undergoing treatment far from their homes. Patient transport from CHBAH to SBAH was also arranged. Karabo underwent 15 sessions of radiation and was put under anaesthetic for each session. Unfortunately, the anaesthetic caused a tight chest, so she would have to be nebulised every morning and evening.
Rainbows and Smiles
Once Karabo’s radiation was completed, Kegomoditswe was put in touch with Bonni Suckling, from Rainbows and Smiles, a foundation dedicated to providing emotional, social and financial support to children diagnosed with cancer and their families.
“Bonni phoned me and asked me what Karabo likes and then she showed up with a bag full of gifts, including dolls. I was so grateful, and she brought such a smile to my face as when Karabo first started chemo, she was given a car as a gift from another person and I was offended thinking they were making a mockery of my child having cancer. I mean she is a girl, why give her a car? Since then I never accepted any gifts until I met Bonni.”
The gifts from Rainbows and Smiles were in lieu of not being able to celebrate Karabo’s first birthday and Christmas. The gifts included formula, nappies and other baby care essentials as well as a gift card for Kegomoditswe. But as most mothers would, Kegomoditswe used it to buy Karabo items that she needed. “Bonni and Catherine still keep in touch and I’m so grateful for all they still do for us, especially for Karabo,” Kegomoditswe says.
Kegomoditswe was told by the doctors that Karabo more than likely won’t be able to have children when she is older due to the chemotherapy. “I accepted this, the main thing is that she is alive,” says Kegomoditswe.
The chemotherapy also affected Karabo’s hearing, so she would go for audiology check-ups, and Karabo also struggled to pronounce words properly. “When I speak to her now, she can hear me, and her pronunciation is getting better. But Karabo surprised us by crawling at 10 months and a month later, she started walking,” the proud mother says.
Unfortunately, Kegomoditswe had to resign from her job when Karabo was diagnosed and is still currently unemployed. But thankfully, Herbert, Karabo’s father was working at the time.
“Karabo’s diagnosis took a toll on my marriage but Herbert’s support was great. He would phone us every day to talk to Karabo and check up on me and you could see how happy he was when we were home. The family also had much to say about Karabo, but they finally understood that her diagnosis was not due to anything her father and I did nor witchcraft once I educated them on cancer.”
Kegomoditswe goes on to say, “My mother’s support was great, she checked in with us every day and at the age of 70-something, she learnt how to use WhatsApp so she could communicate with me. She was my biggest support structure.”
“Karabo’s oncologist also gave me so much support. She always had time to sit down with me and explain everything in my mother tongue so I could understand properly.
When asked what courage means, Kegomoditswe answers, “Being strong and knowing yourself, who you are. I see a lot of courage in Karabo.”
Karabo is doing well and is a healthy, active little girl who loves to pose for pictures, stealing many people’s hearts and affection.
View a tribute to Karabo on TikTok.
MEET THE EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. firstname.lastname@example.org