Their eight-month-old daughter is called Mackenzie but first-time parents Megan and Bronson Friedman of Waterfall, Johannesburg, have dubbed her Mighty Mack.
It’s a fitting name. Tiny Mackenzie has spent half her short life fighting cancer, showing resilience and strength in the face of unimaginable challenges. The little girl is finally home and her parents are now adapting to life with their beloved Mighty Mack.
Megan (35) shares their story.
“I was telling my mother-in-law that having Mackenzie home is like having a newborn baby again. Everything is unknown and a little scary. The first time we brought her home she was brand-new – this time she has cancer and we need to take extra care of her.
It all started in early May, when Mackenzie developed a fever of 38 degrees. My husband and I took her to a doctor and a blood test revealed her blood count was low. We were told it could indicate cancer. We went into a complete state of shock and disbelief. Both of us just started crying.
On 12 May she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a very aggressive form of the disease. The oncologists were very clear on how difficult this would be to treat and that the treatment could kill her. It was terrifying. We were told she would go through chemotherapy and she needed a bone marrow transplant.
Mackenzie immediately started her first course of chemo. Because chemo destroys the immune system, even the natural bacteria in her stomach made her sick. She had a lot of infections.
Ten days in, she got really sick and towards the end of May she had kidney failure and was intubated. She was given fluids, which luckily helped her to recover quickly. But then she got sick again and spent eight weeks in ICU – six of them on a ventilator.
In July an operation was performed in which they cut through her chest to get to her lungs as a fungal growth had been detected. The middle lobe of her lung was removed.
Four days before the operation, my husband and I tested positive for Covid. We’d spent 120 days with her at the hospital.
Whenever she was in the general ward, we’d sleep in a hospital bed or on a sleeper couch. When she was in the ICU, we weren’t allowed to sleep there so we’d sleep on any bed or place available. It was surreal. There were a lot of babies crying. Every three hours when a nurse would come in to administer medication, I’d wake up. There was also a lot of death, unfortunately.
Once we tested positive for Covid, we had to leave. Before the operation, we said our goodbyes as the surgery was risky. The operation lasted about six hours and she made it through and was put in an induced coma for six weeks.
Our symptoms weren’t that severe and after 10 days we tested negative and were allowed back to see her again.
On 25 August, my birthday, we found out the cancer was not detectable in her bone marrow, which meant she was in remission. We were elated but we also knew this type of cancer comes back aggressively.
So this is where we are now. It’s incredible she has reached this milestone but we have to try to keep it like that. Mack is now on her second course of chemo, which goes on for 28 days.
Having her home is great but also scary. She requires full-time care, needs medication every four hours and she’s on oral chemo. We check her blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels. She also has a feeding tube. It’s a lot of work but it’s so incredible for us to be in our own environment and to see her thriving.
She’s eight months old and weighs only five kilos because she’s been so sick. She recently learnt to sit on her own and roll over.
Now we’re looking for her to get a bone marrow transplant around November. She will continue with chemo in 28-day cycles until she receives a transplant. There’s hope for a donor but nothing is confirmed yet.
For now, we just take one day at a time, doing what we can for our brave Mighty Mack. She’s such a fighter and we’re so proud of her.”