At the age of five, Sahara is an in-patient at Kanti Children’s Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. She has been at the hospital for the past two years, receiving treatment for blood cancer.
Sahara’s diagnosis came at just three years old, in her very first week at school. She had come home with a raised temperature and strange blue marks on her hands. The doctor who assessed her in the family’s local hospital assured her father, Sagar, and mother, Kamala, that her symptoms were not serious, and refused their request for blood tests. Sagar and Kamala’s concerns remained, though, and they quickly sought a second opinion. They took the grueling 15-hour bus journey from their home in eastern Nepal to Kathmandu, so Sahara could be seen by pediatric specialists at Kanti Children’s Hospital.
The diagnosis she received there was the one every parent dreads: little Sahara had a type of blood cancer.
Sahara has stayed at the children’s hospital ever since, while Sagar and Kamala found accommodation close by - in a house where many parents of children being treated at the hospital stay. Two years ago, they welcomed another daughter, Shanoli. As spending her days at the hospital is all she’s ever known, Shanoli thinks it’s her home.
Sagar works as a painter, supporting the family and paying the hospital fees by working as many hours as he can. But Kathmandu is expensive and the money he makes is never enough. At first, Sagar and Kamala’s friends and family sent money to help pay for Sahara’s treatment and their living expenses. But as they were unable to repay the loans, they stopped.
Between spending as much time as possible with Sahara at the hospital and living in shared accommodation, the family has no privacy, no space to call their own where the girls can play, and no spare money to take little Shanoli somewhere for a change of scene. Sagar has put his painting skills to good use and painted colorful murals on the walls in the ward where Sahara is being treated, which keep hers and other children’s spirits up.
Having adapted to life in hospital, Sahara’s clinicians are a source of inspiration to her. She says:
Like all parents, Sagar and Kamala are determined to ensure both their daughters have happy childhoods ahead of them. Sagar says:
Living day by day is their only choice.
Sahara is just one of over 1,200 children expected to develop cancer this year in Nepal. Due to a lack of access to adequate care, the high cost of treatment and a lack of awareness of childhood cancer among healthcare professionals and the public, as few as 10% of these children are expected to survive. This cannot be allowed to go on.
At World Child Cancer, we are experienced in working with many families in low- and middle-income countries around the world, just like Sahara's. We provide financial and emotional support to families whose children are being treated for cancer to ensure they have the means and confidence to finish treatment. We work with communities and healthcare professionals alike to increase awareness and understanding of cancer and its early warning signs. We support the training of healthcare professionals so more children can receive an accurate diagnosis and effective cancer treatment. We also know that many families in this situation have had to relocate far from home and are forced to reside in the hospital, often sleeping on the floors or the same bed as their sick child. In some of our programs, we help to fund the development of new accommodation for families in such situations. Through this work, we are helping to improve the standard of treatment and care for children with cancer and their families.