A Double Dose of Cancer: Sebaga’s Story From Botswana

Sebaga during therapy for her medulloblastoma

I have been very blessed to meet so many wonderful pediatric hematology-oncology patients at Princess Marina Hospital (PMH) in Gaborone, Botswana. One patient I saw nearly every week. Sebaga, which in Setswana means “that which shines” or more literally “beads or pearls,” quickly carved out a place in my heart that she will forever occupy. I asked her mother to chronicle Sebaga’s journey:

Like a pearl, she was born on the 29 December 2003 at PMH. It was the happiest day of my life. Like every new mother, I already had future plans for her. Sebaga was beautiful, very angelic. She grew up well, ate well, played well, did all that a normal child would do.

This changed when Sebaga was diagnosed with a brain tumor (Medulloblastoma) on the 11th of December 2007. When the doctor broke the news to us, it was as if a sharp object has been stabbed through my heart. As a mother, I was scared, frustrated, and panicked. My fear was that my child might die and to cope with death was something I could not imagine. I had many questions to ask but did not know where to start. Since that time my life together with my daughter’s life changed completely. The hospital was like our home as we were in and out of different hospitals. As a mother I had to learn a lot about my child’s disease and its treatment that did help me with the fear. My hope was heightened together with her father; we played an active role in her treatment.

She went through all the processes of cancer treatment: brain surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy followed by monthly checkups. From June 2009 onwards, we had hope that Sebaga was completely healed as there were no signs of cancer anymore. In the early part of 2012, Sebaga’s blood counts began to fall. After some investigations, we learned that she had developed a rare but dreaded complication of cancer treatment: Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a bone marrow disorder that can lead to leukemia. When we learned this news in April 2012, it was yet another blow and was tougher than the first diagnosis, but as a family, we never lost hope still. We did the best we could to save her precious life. Everyday we were hoping for a miracle to happen. Sebaga was very strong, she never wanted to admit that she was sick. Pain was part of her life, but one could not tell. Her strength was an inspiration to a lot of us, her school mates, her doctors, other patients and other mothers. She knew most of the medical terms concerning her disease. All the doctors could prick her many times to insert an intravenous cannula and she would not cry, rather she would help in searching for her veins.

She endured weekly blood transfusions and frequent hospital admissions for a year with a smile on her face and a hug for anyone that was interested. In April 2013, her MDS had turned into leukemia and she developed kidney failure. As quickly as she came into the world, she was gone. Oh my little angel, she was like a child from another planet. Everyone who met her loved her. We as a family met a lot of people through her: Sebaga (The Pearl). Only God knows why you were taken away from us. YOU ARE NOW AN ANGEL!!!!!!!!! We will always love you.

I will be forever thankful for the opportunity I had to get to know Sebaga. Smiles like Sebaga’s encourage us to work harder to see that the children of Botswana survive their cancers.

About Dr. Jeremy Slone, Pediatric Oncologist

I am a member of the International Program at the Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

I'm primarly based at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, where I provide clinical care to hematology and oncology patients and continue to research the disparities in outcomes seen in children residing in developing countries.

Posted in Cancer and Hematology, International

3 Responses to A Double Dose of Cancer: Sebaga’s Story From Botswana

  1. Carol Slone says:

    Son as your mother reading this I can hardly even imagine the pain your heart shares with each child and parent. .. This is a very sad thing that happen to this little girl plus her parents We know God has it all in control and says he will never leave us or forsake us and find this to be so true in my own life… Gods love and his warm blanket of love keeps us steady..Praying for you and your family . Also praying for the sick little children..Thanks for posting aon.. l.

  2. Barobi (sebaga"s mum) says:

    Dr.Slone your coming to Botswana PMH and the first time you were introduced to my family, that is when you took over from Dr Anua, you really welcomed us with a smile, a smile of hope.Throughout our frequent visit with Sebaga to PMH, you never lost that smile, even when times were hard.That in itself gave us hope, courage & the strength to go on. You were more like a father to my late little angel Sebaga.Your continuous support is really appreciated.Through my experience , i now know a lot about different childhood as well as adult cancers .Its all thanks to you & your team.Kip up the good work.God bless you.

  3. Mpho Raletshegwana says:

    and indeed she was a pearl.very bright and energetic.i wil forever remember her courage and sense of humour,i actually met Sebaga for the first time during counselling after diagnosis was confirmed,
    rest in peace Sebaga

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