A young South African fighting the biggest battle, chose a different path and miraculously, against all the odds, started a path of recovery!
Cape Town, South Africa (10 February 2020) – Joshua Nel was born in 2004, a micro-preemie weighing in at only 1.2 kg, the average weight of a 29 weeker is 900g so he was considered lucky. He was discharged 6 weeks later after 3 hernia operations, a blood transfusion and jaundice.
The only other time he spent in hospital was after he contracted the dreaded Roto Virus but life continued at a normal pace with no further incidences.
Fast track to 2018 and Joshua was enjoying his first year in High School. As the exams loomed ahead, he started complaining of headaches which his mom, Vanessa Price, thought were due to growth spurts, change of season and exam stress but Vanessa took him to the doctor anyway who after a thorough check-up, including his eyes, put it down to sinus.
A month or so later, they went back to the doctor, who changed the sinus meds due to the headaches becoming more frequent.
“I then took him to the chiropractor after he started experiencing intermittent lameness on the one side of his face. The chiropractor sent us to the optician with the instruction to check his optic nerves. After checking these, we were sent directly to the ophthalmologist who immediately booked him in for an emergency MRI.”
The family waited for the results and the moment the neurologist gave her diagnosis, they knew their world as they had known it for the last 14 years, had changed forever.
“Without giving a thought to how a mother, or child, would respond, the Doctor blurted out “Your son has a brain tumour.”
At that exact moment, Vanessa had one of two choices, break down in tears or stand strong and emotionless. Both reactions would have very different outcomes for her only child and in a split second, she knew what I had to do.
“Ok, and now what? I said to a cold, heartless woman who stood in front of me with no empathy with what impact her words had just done.”
The following week Joshua had surgery to relieve the buildup of fluid in his brain and a week after that, a ten-hour surgery to debulk the tumour. The family were told that the surgery would be 8 hours and that he stood a 20% chance of dying on the table.
“Hour after hour we sat in the waiting room with no news coming from the hospital staff on how he was doing. When Josh came out of the anaesthetic, he was unable to move, talk, swallow or walk. He also had double vision. This is known as Posterior Fossa Syndrome.”
The results came back but the results were not a Grade 1 benign tumour as the neurosurgeon had hoped, it was, in fact, a Grade IV, malignant Pineoblastoma, a tumour which affects only 1 in 1 million people. It is so rare that conventional treatment throws it in the same category as a Medulloblastoma, a tumour in a different part of the brain.
After countless hours, days and weeks, Josh was able to walk, talk and swallow, the only “side effect” of the surgery was double-vision (since corrected with prism glasses) and short term memory loss (which returned 100% exactly one year after surgery).
In the month he spent in the hospital, he lost 9kgs and his immune system was severely compromised.
“But instead of starting radiation the first week of January 2019, we elected to strengthen his immune system at a facility focussing on exactly that. The pressure we received from the medical fraternity was nothing short of disgusting but we stuck to our guns and after the first MRI in April and again in July, the residual tumour which was calcified to his brain stem continued to shrink.
We spent 2019 at this clinic where Joshua was treated holistically and gained many friends of all ages.”
Joshua has returned to school this year and chose to repeat Grade 9. Looking at him, you will never guess that he is fighting a fight no teenager needs to face. He has matured beyond his years and continues to bring light and laughter into the lives of each person he meets.
But Vanessa has a message for all parents who might be facing the same battle.
“World Childhood Cancer day is the 15th of February. My hope is that each person be given the choice between the existing protocol for cancer and the route that Josh chose. In the neurosurgeon’s own words, Joshua should be dead by now and I sincerely believe that if he had chosen chemo and radiation, that he would be.”