About two years ago, Gemma Mills, 11, was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“I wasn’t shocked because I thought cancer was like a tummy bug or a flu, and I thought everything was going to be fine.”
But she quickly learnt that “her blood was sick” and that she was going to be in hospital for a long time.
She was admitted to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and the oncology ward became her second home.
“I met many friends and the doctors and nurses were very friendly.”
Her mother, Deolinda Del Carmè said it was daunting for her as a parent but the doctors at Red Cross were amazing, and she was grateful to the staff for helping her daughter get better.
“As a parent, you feel like no one can relate. It’s scary when you hear the C-word – it’s like a death sentence. With all the support, we managed to get through. I really believe that the doctors and nurses at Red Cross helped the recovery process.”
Gemma is still on the road to recovery and has been receiving treatment as an outpatient at the hospital.
She said more could be done to make the hospital more family friendly and welcoming.
“The bathrooms desperately need to be redone, and there is a waiting room where you wait for your medicine that can be made bigger and brighter, so that children can be happier when they come to the hospital.
“There are many things that people can change about Red Cross, but there are memories that stay with you.”
Jemma was speaking at the Tekkies and Tiaras fund-raising event, organised by the Marriott World Wide Business Council and held at the Crystal Towers hotel.
The participants included a number of the group’s hotels in the Western Cape.
The event aimed to raise
R50 000 towards the oncology ward at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
Conrad Jonk of the business council said while it is tough to choose a charity, the council decided on the children’s hospital for the “amazing” work they do.
“What crept into my heart was a little boy, his whole body burnt, and he was just playing. That is our future – the children.”
He said Red Cross provides world-class treatment for children from all over, and it felt right that they were chosen for the charity as it was for the children.
“It’s amazing what they do with the little funding they have.”
While this was the flagship event, Mr Jonk said the idea is to have it annually.
At the event, the seven participating hotel chefs cooked a four course meal for the 10 tables.
Children’s drawings were also auctioned off, as well as wine from Durbanville Hills.
Chantel Cooper of the Children’s Hospital Trust said they are truly grateful for being chosen as the beneficiary.
“ It’s not only being the chosen charity, it’s about working with a team that is so passionate about the cause. It’s nice to know that they find joy in giving back.”
She said they have already received donations of linen and toiletries from different hotels.
“Red Cross Children’s Hospital exists to create a better future for children. There are lives saved every single week. We need to improve the environment for the children and their families who come and sit with them.
“Children come from all over to use the oncology unit at Red Cross.”
Ms Cooper an upgrade of the oncology unit was estimated to cost R13.2 million for more isolation units, where children with weak immune systems can be held; new bathrooms; improving the nurses resting facility; a space for the social workers to work in; and a research room for pharmaceuticals.
Ms Del Carme said that Gemma has her own fund-raising campaign to contribute towards the donation.
“My child is now in recovery, and we want to support other children who are going through the same thing. Some of the children are not as lucky as Gemma, and some children are without parents, in which case the doctors and nurses have to be their parents.
“We are so fortunate that we want to give back. We’ve started a crowdfunding initiative called Gemma Mills gives back.”
The campaign has already raised about R8 000. The goal is R100 000.