Pictured during the handing-over ceremony are, from left to right, Bobby Were (CANSA’s Northern Province coordinator for childhood cancer), Cherese Botha (CANSA volunteer), and Sam Maphosa (CANSA’s Northern Province volunteer).
Date: 11 November 2023 By: Andries van Zyl
A unique honour was bestowed upon Louis Trichardt cancer volunteer Cherese Botha when she was awarded a Mariette Loots Cancer Winner Merit medal and certificate by the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) on 26 October. Annually, this award is given to only five South Africans.
“This goes to a CANSA volunteer who goes above and beyond. There are only five issued every year. This one was presented to Cherese because not only is it a case of raising food parcels and medicine, but it is also about providing emotional support. It is going that extra mile,” said Bobby Were, CANSA’s Northern Province coordinator for childhood cancer. The award, however, is not limited to childhood support but encompasses the full spectrum of CANSA services.
“For me, to have the privilege of giving it to Cherese is a very significant thing,” said Were when handing Botha her medal and certificate last Friday. Recipients of the award are nominated by CANSA offices, and these nominees are then evaluated by a board of trustees of the Mariette Loots Cancer Trust.
“I do not feel like it is necessary, but I am very honoured. I do not think that I need any type of thanks for anything,” said a tearful Botha after receiving the award. She went on to explain that her service to cancer sufferers is more of a calling than just a job. “It is something you know you have to do. It is difficult and emotionally exhausting, and we face many challenges. We lose a child a week in this province,” said Botha. She said that her involvement with CANSA was mainly because of her own son’s battle with cancer.
“The reason why I am here is because of my Leo. He is just a miracle on his own. But this is why I started walking down this road, because of my own child’s battle with cancer. It is hard … but you do it,” said Botha. Young Leo, now in Grade 1, received a cancer diagnosis in 2016 but has responded well to treatment. “This is my way of saying thank you to the Lord,” said Botha.
Bobby expanded a bit on why exactly Botha received one of the Mariette Loots Merit Awards this year, setting herself apart from so many others in going the extra mile. Apart from raising food parcels and medicine for local childhood-cancer sufferers, Botha also provides cancer education at the local memorial hospital. Food parcels are also sent to Polokwane and Pretoria. But one example of Botha’s dedication to helping children struggling with cancer is probably how she assisted in getting a four-year-old girl back to Zimbabwe, so that she could die in her grandmother’s arms.
The events unfolded in December last year and entailed an epic three-day drive, one with many challenges. The distance home for the little girl was so great that she had to change vehicles four times from the Steve Biko Hospital. During the trip, the young girl’s morphine medication also ran out as she was only prescribed a limited amount. This left her screaming in pain, but all involved pushed through.
“The young girl who wanted to go back to Zimbabwe - that was just the Lord! It was a Friday afternoon when I received the phone call. And her grandmother did not live ‘just over’ the border. I needed to Google where she lived. Luckily, I have my contacts and I know people I can call,” said Botha. Within six hours, Cherese had organised a plan.
“At one stage, I was scared she was going to die en route … but we got her home just before Christmas last year, and she had another three weeks to spend with her family,” said Botha. For her, it was a case of doing everything in her power to grant this little girl her dying wish. “We wanted to make sure that she died at home, and it was just by the Grace of the Lord that we got her home,” said Botha. With tears in her eyes, she added that the young girl died on Christmas Eve, at her grandmother’s house as had been her wish.
“Sometimes you have to tell yourself to cut your emotions off. But it is impossible,” said Botha. Regarding this, she had unbelievable gratitude towards all the doctors, medical staff, and other volunteers in the province who support their efforts. “Our support comes from so many different levels,” said Botha, adding that the award she received was as much for them as for her. “I am very grateful to be blessed to be able to do these things.”
To get involved as a CANSA volunteer, Botha invited the public to phone her at Tel 082 818 2315.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.