'I'm 13 and I beat cancer'

Bilal Teladia
Bilal Teladia
Photo supplied

Bilal Teladia was nine years old when he started to experience mysterious mood swings. His mother took him to various doctors, however, no-one was able to detect a cause for his anxiety and aggression. A baffling limp presented itself in Bilal along with exhaustion and immense weight loss. After two biopsies, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma was diagnosed. Three years later Bilal has survived relentless chemotherapy and is now in remission. Here is his story, as told in his own words:

Running, running as fast as his little feet would take him trying to escape from the kidnappers. He fell, he was caught, and it is all over. "Aaaah!" I yelled as I woke up in bed after a bad nightmare. I was safe in my comfortable bed at home in a quiet town called Bakerton.

Lifting myself slowly I realised my pillow was drenched in sweat. I got into my wheelchair ever so carefully and began wheeling myself to the kitchen for breakfast.

My parents were waiting, observing my every move with large smiles on their faces. Today was my appointment at the doctor.

"Hi!" I called out to the doctor as I entered his office. After a few tests, scans, etc he decided it was time for another biopsy. "No!" I yelled, "not again." That didn’t help. The biopsy was done on the 23rd of November 2007.

I was admitted in Pretoria’s Life Eugene Marais Hospital. My parents filling in the forms wrote:

Full Name of Patient: Bilal Teladia
Age of patient: 9 (nine)
Date of Birth: 1998-07-19
Nationality: South Africa
Occupation: N/A
Previous medical procedures: biopsy
Date of Previous medical Procedure: 12 February 2007
Parent/Guardian Male: Ismail Teladia
Parent/Guardian Female: Fatima Teladia
Number of Siblings: 2 (two)
Information on siblings: 1 (one) elder brother – Imraan Teladia, 1 (one) elder sister – Ayesha Teladia

Time to go in for the procedure. Called a nurse. "Here we go again," I thought. I was on the operating table where I tried to stall the doctors. That did not work. They put a gas pipe over my mouth and before I could begin to protest…I woke up in a hospital bed in pain. I thought my body was being stretched apart. I could not walk before but I could sit in an upright position.

I was discharged the next morning and on the way home, while shouting and screaming, the phone rang. It was the doctor. It was the diagnosis. I had Non-Hodgkins' Lymphoma (a type of cancer) and five months to live. The next few days were hell, people phoned and visited, asking questions and trying to comfort me.

On the 26th of November 2007, I went to Johannesburg General Hospital. They say each cloud has a silver lining. This was mine. A bone marrow test was done. The diagnosis was confirmed. At that time, I did not know I had cancer. I was admitted in a room. Slowly time passed and I began to feel better with every second day chemo, physiotherapy, etc. The treatment helped to make me stronger and wiser and it taught me patience. As a family we learnt that when live throws us a curveball, we work together to get rid of it. The side effects were throwing up, diarrhoea, sleepiness and hair loss. Slowly I saw many new patients were coming and going, except me. Four months later, I was discharged on crutches. I came home with hardly any pain. Now I had a few goals to achieve which I wrote on a piece of paper:

My goals:

  • Be dux boy
  • Be head boy
  • Walk again
  • Play competitive cricket for a team
  • Beat cancer
  • Go to school
  • Give advice to people who have recently been diagnosed with cancer

After two more months, my chemotherapy dates changed to every second week. On the 17th of July 2008 I learned to walk again.

In 2010, I went to school, tried out for the cricket team and failed. I might not be good at sports but I was brilliant at schoolwork. At the end of the year, I was dux boy.

It was November 2010 and I had beaten cancer. What a long journey it had been.

The next year I was chosen to be a prefect. A month later, I was chosen to be head boy.

Later that year I tried again for the cricket team and made the open team.

I am thirteen years old now. It's about two-and-a-half years since I first wrote my “goals to achieve list” and this is what it looks like now:

My goals:

  • Be dux boy X
  • Be head boy X
  • Walk again X
  • Play competitive cricket for a team X
  • Beat cancer X
  • Go to school X
  • Give advice to people who have recently been diagnosed with cancer
    (I can never stop advising and encouraging people who are sick, because sharing experiences with someone else does not take the pain or the difficulty away. It just makes it easier to face.)

My advice to people who have just been diagnosed with lymphoma:

  1. It is great to talk with friends who’ve had cancer. Hearing their experiences and how they coped can be quite helpful. However, be wary if they say, “You should do…” Though well intentioned, they do not know what is best for you. You do.
  2. Remember that cancer treatments change rapidly. The treatment that was standard three years ago may not be standard today. What you hear from people treated in the past is usually out of date.
  3. Nearly everyone undergoing cancer treatment experiences fatigue. It’s probably the most common and least publicised side effect. Preserve your energy for activities that are most important and/or most enjoyable.
  4. Don’t begin a radical cancer curing diet or major lifestyle change during your treatment. Just eat sensibly and nutritiously, exercise moderately, and get plenty of rest. You can make whatever lifestyle and diet changes you want after treatment is over.
  5. Medications that control side effects have improved tremendously, but not every medication works equally well for each person. Don't be stoic. Tell your doctor about your side effects or when you just feel crappy. It's often possible to switch you to different drugs that will work better for you.
  6. Share all of your alternative or complementary treatments with your physicians because some treatments (even vitamins) can interfere with chemotherapy, anaesthesia, and your body’s natural response to surgery.
  7. Recovery is not a straight line. You’ll feel better one day; then you’ll feel worse; then you’ll feel better. Do not be discouraged by the down days.
  8. The end of treatment is not always a time of celebration. For many people, it’s the most difficult time because you want to be normal, but you don’t yet feel normal. It may take several months or more to bounce back.
  9. Survival statistics can tell you how a large group of people with your diagnosis will do. But you’re an individual, and the statistics can’t predict how you will do.
  10. Don’t blame yourself for your cancer. It’s usually impossible to say why an individual got cancer. And no one – no one – deserves cancer. 

Story written by Bilal Teladia, 22 August 2011, provided by Matrix Advertising and Communications

Learn more about Lymphoma Awareness Dayand show your support by visiting "I am the Voice of Lymphoma" Facebook page.

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