MY STORY | I beat childhood cancer and now I’m writing my matric exams

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Rebecca Stringer has seen every day as a gift after beating cancer 14 years ago. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Rebecca Stringer has seen every day as a gift after beating cancer 14 years ago. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Rebecca Stringer was diagnosed with leukemia when she was two. The teen from Somerset West near Cape Town tells YOU her story. 

“When I was a child I remember frequent hospital visits and having to get injections. One day I injured my leg while on a walk with my dad, Jurgen, and started limping.

My mother, Sarah, felt something was wrong when I stopped wanting to walk and wanted to be carried everywhere. I saw many doctors and at one point I was given steroids because one of them suspected I had juvenile arthritis. 

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When she was sick, Rebecca had to deal with fatigue, nausea, fever, diarrhoea, and frequent infections. (PHOTO: Supplied)

On October 2005 I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Had it not been for the steroids I would have been diagnosed sooner. 

My family was a big support throughout my cancer journey. My grandmother, Tia Stringer, had breast cancer at the same time as me and my family shaved their heads to support both of us.

We used to laugh together and wear different beanies. 

From November 2005 to May 2006 I went through chemo and other treatments and then I got the news that I was in remission.

However, by July 2007 the cancer had returned.

The previous treatment I was on didn't work so well this time. In order for me for me to receive a bone marrow transplant I needed to be in remission and a second opinion revealed that I had a less than 10% chance of achieving this. 

I began a new course of chemo, which hit me hard. I remember waking up once and immediately throwing up. The nurses had to change my sheets only for me to throw up again. 

I’m very happy I don’t remember the pain, but I do remember the fatigue. But thankfully the chemo helped and I went into remission again.

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Despite being so sick, Rebecca was a cheerful child. (PHOTO: Supplied)

The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SAMBR) looked for international and national donors.

I was lucky. After just a month on the list they found a local donor. This is rare. 

Her name is Zyta Foxcroft, and she was one of the first 100 people to join SAMBR. She had been a donor for years and I think she was ready to give up until she got the call telling her that she was a match.

On 10 October 2007 I received my transplant. I remember when it was time to go into theatre, my mother told me I was almost there and that I just needed to push through. It was a success.

The last day at hospital I asked my mother in the elevator if we were going home and she said, "Yes, forever." 

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Celebrating her second birthday. (PHOTO: Supplied)

In 2013 the SABMR had their 21st celebration and I got to meet Zyta. I had no idea that I was going to meet her that day until we walked into the room full of people and my mom told me why we were there.

I just had a feeling and when I looked around the room I saw a woman smiling at me and I just knew it was her. She loves butterflies and gave me a necklace with a butterfly, which I wear every day. We are still in contact. 

Because of the radiation and chemo, I am quite small. I am 155cm tall. Both my parents are over 188cm tall and my sister Katie is only 12 but she’s already taller than me. 

Due to all the lumbar punctures, Hickman ports & central venous catheters, I have scars on my chest, neck, under my arm and back. I am not ashamed of my scars especially the ones on my neck. I think they are beautiful. The scars tell a story. 

I suffer from severe heartburn, nausea and I am gluten- and lactose-intolerant. Every six months I go for tests just to make sure I’m still okay. 

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Rebecca with her parents, Jurgen and Sarah, and her sister, Katie. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Sometimes I cry when I look at the pictures of that time. My family would be so different if I was not here today. I look up to my mom. I know she would struggle with me not being here because we are very close.

My sister and I also have a tight bond and she's very protective of me. I am so grateful for life because it is so short, and we should not take it for granted. 

I have been cancer-free for 14 years. I am busy writing my matric exams. I take history, drama, and design because I want to become a graphic designer. None of this would have been possible had I not received a stem cell transplant on time.

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