Between all the emails, paper and meetings and the general rush of everyday life, it can be often neglected to reflect on the actual motivation for the efforts and input we make.
On a recent dry and hazy morning my colleague, Geraldine, and I find ourselves lost in one of the neighboring townships. In South Africa we are very aware of personal safety and in this situation one could easily decide to return to the safety of home, giving up on the set mission. We are however determined and decide to stick to our commitment in meeting with the Childhood Cancer Organization (CHOC) at the pediatric oncology ward of George Mukhari Hospital. Today, we are connecting with the young patients and their families and handing out the knitted hats made “With Love in Every Stitch”.
This will be Geraldine’s first contact with patients and partners since she joined The Max Foundation this spring. She expresses her concern for how emotional it will be to face the children and parents later in the day.
We receive a warm welcome at the hospital and make numerous new friends as we navigate our way to the ward. This is no small hospital, in fact it is one of the larger teaching hospitals in South Africa, but still we are received as family.
The matron from the pediatric ward appear in the doorway dressed in brilliant white as the angel she is. As Antonella from CHOC makes the introductions we become aware of a buzz in the ward. Tiny faces look at us between the rails of the cribs and doorways.
We move from bed to bed, engaging with the parents, giving each child the opportunity to find the hat they want and then we came to the littlest one. She is only six months old and currently facing stage four Neuroblastoma. We take turns in holding this little one, adorned in her beautiful new white hat, eyes smiling at all the attention and I know that this is the reason why we commit every day to improving the lives of those living with cancer.
We visit the isolation rooms. Cleaned hands, and mouths covered, we enter these quite spaces with our bag of hats. We spread the hats on the bed for the child to select one. For a moment, there is an option for that child, even if it is only the personal choice of the color of a hat.
At the last bed we cover the white sheets in pink and purple, our experience thus far indicates that pink and purple are girl colors. This girl however is not impressed with pink or purple, yet her eyes light up when we produce the brightest, multi colored hat, this is her hat! I take out my phone to show her on the camera how pretty she looks and as I lean in to share the screen something catches my eye. Hiding beneath her bedsheets I find our dear friend Maximo!! He made his way here as a donation to CHOC, giving comfort to this young brave girl. As we read her colorful book, with her colorful hat I can only wish her a colorful life.
As we make our way back, Geraldine reflects on the visit. She notes how energized and grateful she feels, how amazing it is to be associated with The Max Foundation and the opportunities we each have to change lives. I know this feeling so well and this is why I, too, look forward to the emotion and engagement that is inspired by visits with patients.