'Have a nice time with Jesus, darling': Young cancer sufferer dies after brave battle

By Jana Smit
27 February 2017

The six-year-old's bravery captured the hearts of thousands of people – but now they mourn his death.

His bravery captured the hearts of thousands of people – but now they mourn his death.

Young cancer sufferer Ruben Scharneck (6) died on Saturday morning.The six-year-old's bravery captured the hearts of thousands of people – but now they mourn his death.

In 2014, Ruben was diagnosed with neuroblastoma*, a type of cancer that starts in the nerve cells. His lymph glands discharge fluid, which has to be drained from his stomach every 10 days under anaesthetic. As the fluid builds up, Ruben’s abdomen swells – it was so bad recently he could hardly sit up straight.

Read more: Tragedy for little girl in heartrending cancer photo

It was one of the days Ruben was meant to return to school. “School is really nice,” the little boy told YOU at the time. “I like maths and we learnt about reading and writing.”

Because of his illness he spent only one day at school with his Grade 1 friends. When YOU visited him he said he was looking forward to going back to school. On his only day at school he drew a picture of himself and his brother, Rossouw. He could remember in the finest detail every moment spent in the classroom at Laerskool Menlo Park, in Pretoria.

Rossouw (12), Marinda (38), Ruben and André (47). PHOTO: Dino Codevilla Rossouw (12), Marinda (38), Ruben and André (47). PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

A friend of the family who answered the phone when we called Ruben’s mom, Marinda, on Saturday afternoon, said Marinda and her husband, André, appreciated every call and message. “Everyone is alright,” she said.

In April last year a doctor gave Ruben just three months to live and a week before Christmas the doctor told André to prepare himself to say goodbye to his son. But Ruben has persevered.

Read more: Kids and cancer: what you need to know

Marinda says she’ll never make peace with the fact Ruben might die. “But we don’t want to be selfish,” André adds. Ruben hasn’t had any chemotherapy since February 2016 because it takes too much of a toll on his tiny body.

“You think it’s the end of the world when you have a headache,” Marinda says. “Ruben is in pain every day but if you ask him how he feels he’ll just say he’s a little sore.”

To their family and friends, Ruben is a superhero. And he’s taught his parents there’s always hope, no matter what happens.

Marinda and Ruben share a tender moment. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla Marinda and Ruben share a tender moment. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

On Saturday messages of sympathy streamed into Marinda’s Facebook page. A relative, Madalea Scharneck, probably expressed the feelings of many people in her message: "We have no words. We’re glad because you’re no longer in pain."

"We’re grateful because we had the opportunity to meet you and we thank God for such a good person. Ruben, I have a lot of respect for you. I’ll never forget you. Little person with the loveliest heart."

After a message of sympathy to Ruben’s parents and Rossouw, she closed with the words: “Have a nice time with Jesus, darling.”

Ruben will be cremated and a memorial will be held this coming Saturday at 10 am in Pretoria.

*WHAT IS NEUROBLASTOMA?

Neuroblastoma is a solid tumour cancer that starts in the nerve cells of babies and young children under the age of five. “It usually starts in the adrenal glands but can also start in nerve tissue that runs along the spinal cord or in the neck, chest, abdomen or pelvis,” says Professor Michael Herbst, a health specialist at the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa).

The adrenal glands, situated on top of the kidneys, produce hormones that help control bodily functions such as the heartbeat and blood pressure.

Professor Herbst says neuroblastoma can start before birth and is sometimes picked up on fetal scans, but is often only detected once it’s spread to other parts of the body. “It’s usually diagnosed when a parent or doctor discovers an unusual lump or mass somewhere on the child’s body,” he says.

The first symptoms are often vague and can include irritability, tiredness, loss of appetite and fever. As the warning signs develop slowly and are similar to those of other common childhood illnesses, neuroblastoma can be difficult to diagnose.

Tumours that haven’t spread can usually be surgically removed. Other treatments include chemotherapy and radiotherapy for tumours that have already begun to spread by the time of diagnosis.

For children with high-risk neuroblastoma – like Ruben – the average five-year survival rate is approximately 50 percent.

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