She had been with her daughter through thick and thin just hoping that one day she would see her child grow into a beautiful adult who would equally continue their lineage. Unfortunately, this wonderful dream was dashed on the night of March 10, 2018 when death laid its icy hands on Nicole who happened to be her first child.
The late Nicole Wesoamo Pwamang could simply be described as a fighter whose positive attitude made her survive all the harsh conditions of childhood cancers.
Her dream was to be an oncologist (a doctor who treats cancer and provides medical care for persons diagnosed with cancer). However, her battle with cancer left her keen to never see another child go through the pain she endured. Nicole’s main ambition was to support children with childhood cancers, assist with treatment of needy children with good prognosis and support children with requiring palliative care.
It is no wonder she opted to study Science to enable her to fulfil her goal. Although she is gone, her legacy, the Wesoamo Child Cancer Foundation (WCCF), lingers on to give life to children battling cancer in Ghana.
Nicole’s battle with cancer
At the initial stages of Nicole’s condition, she was told it was an infection, and after a biopsy, she was told it was a tumour. At the time, she had no idea it was cancer. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a type of cancer in the bones) in her right femur in 2013 and had a successful limb salvage surgery the same year in India.
She went through months of painful tests, chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, physiotherapy and other medical procedures to cure her of the cancer. Thankfully, after all those months, Nicole was cured of cancer.
Nicole returned to India again in 2014 for a second surgery to have a lung nodule removed from her lungs.
Her experience with cancer and the difficulties pertaining to patient care propelled her to establish the WCCF in 2014 upon her return to Ghana. In February this year, Nicole had a recurrence of the disease in her lungs and battled the diseases she did previously. Regrettably, she was not lucky this time and passed on to glory.
According to her mother, Mrs Pwamang, Nicole was born at a time they were finding their feet as a couple and young adults. “We were not sure of our careers and many other life decisions but as soon as she arrived, things started taking shape. It was her dream to be able to sponsor children who need cancer treatment due to how expensive treatment for cancer is.”
“Nicole was always strong and healthy. We were, therefore, surprised when the thigh pain we thought was a muscle pull turned out to be a tumour. Doctors had to refer people to her for encouragement and her smile alone kept hope alive,” she narrated.
Nicole was also trying to find answers to why most African countries did not have a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan. This type of scan can show how body tissues are working, as well as what they look like; and it is used to test for cancer. She was passionate about raising funds to help acquire a PET scan for Ghana.
Recounting some of the good times they shared with their daughter, Mrs Pwamang revealed that at the tender age of eight, Nicole helped her by recording sales at her shop on weekends and during vacation. “She became a young makeup artist at age 10 and worked mostly on flower girls during weddings. She also managed my Facebook page enthusiastically, growing the school on social media,” she said sadly.
“Her keenness to learn and acquire additional skills got her to enrol at various skills training institutions in India on part time while seeking treatment in that country. She acquired certificates in baking, Computer Networking and Computer Animation.
Nicole was born on November 24, 2003 to Mr Camillo Pwamang, a Clerk of Parliament who hails from Navrongo, and Mrs Gloria Abla Pwamang, a trained teacher who comes from Anloga. She started her primary education at the Fountainhead Christian School, Sakumono in 2009 and completed junior high school at the same school in 2017.
She gained admission to the Akosombo International School (AIS) to pursue Science. She was the first of four siblings. The rest are Emmanuella, Wekem and Akiwele.
Nicole was writing a book and working on a blog to share her story with the world before she passed away. However, her parents have promised to complete the book and launch it on her birthday on November 24.
Advocacy for hospice facility
Having gone through a lot as parents, one thing that the foundation seeks to champion is for the government to establish a hospice facility to lessen the burden on women who normally take care of family members whose medical conditions have been declared hopeless.
Hospice is specialised care for those facing a life-limiting illness, their families and their caregivers. Hospice care addresses the patient’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
Explaining to The Mirror how it was challenging for them as parents to send Nicole from Korle Bu to the house when her condition was finally declared a terminal case, Mrs Pwamang recalled: “It was a traumatic experience as we had to go round searching for oxygen to use for her at home because she couldn’t breathe properly.
“Finally, we had a mobile oxygen from the Greenville Hospital in Tema Community 25. The owner of the facility who was touched by Nicole’s condition decided to give the oxygen to us for free and even added a nurse to assist us take care of her, with the support of our consultant at Korle Bu by name Dr Nihad Salifu.”
Mrs Pwamang, who was traumatised by the terminal stage of her daughter’s sickness, said: “Telling us to send Nicole back home was almost like sitting on a time bomb. We knew death would certainly come but as to when and where was the scary part of the whole thing and we couldn’t tell her what the doctors had said. Imagine if she had died home in the presence of her younger siblings; the trauma they would have gone through till date.”
“Even though she died in the hospital finally, we’ve all abandoned her room. It has not been easy. Just after Nicole’s passing, about two parents contacted me to find out how we went about taking care of Nicole at the terminal stage at home because they were facing similar conditions with their children who are less than five-year-olds suffering from leukemia at terminal stages,” she added.
She stated that it was obvious that such parents were going through a lot emotionally and a hospice facility would be the best for them at this critical stage. “For example, sometimes the broader hospice team involves dieticians, massage therapists and volunteers who provide companionship and friendship to hospice patients,” she noted.
Mrs Pwamang said currently, they were trying to put up a trust fund where children with cancers could access some funds to support their treatment. “You will be surprised that there are parents who do not have as little as 50 cedis to enable them to do even x-rays. Sometimes while on admission with Nicole, we met such cases and we ended up assisting them to pay.
“We don’t want to sit down and look on because we’ve lost Nicole; we have to help save lives of children with cancers. As you know, the treatment for cancer is very expensive; therefore, the foundation is aiming at raising about 50,000 pounds, but we will start with a seed money of 10,000 pounds so that at least three patients can be assisted and then the number will be increased as and when the fund grows,” she revealed.
Touching on treatment, Mrs Pwamang appealed to the government to consider adding childhood cancers to the National Health Insurance Scheme.