Young Joshua Nel was born a small baby weighing in at just 1.2kg. Despite having to undergo three hernia operations and a blood transfusion before leaving the hospital, he went on to live a healthy and happy life until his first year of high school.
In 2018, Joshua was excited to start high school but as his exams approached, he started to experience headaches. His mother Vanessa Price was sure it was just stress or growth spurts, so she took him to the doctor for a checkup. His headaches were dismissed as sinus problems, but even though he was taking medication the headaches became more frequent.
Even more oddly, Joshua started experiencing lameness in one side of his face and his mother took him to a chiropractor who suggested he see an optician to check his optic nerves. Once Joshua’s nerves were checked, he was urgently sent to the ophthalmologist who booked him for an emergency MRI.
All in one instant, the life the Price family had known for the past 14 years came to a halt as the neurologist told Joshua and his mother that he had a brain tumour.
Enormous pressure fell on Vanessa’s shoulders as she needed to be a source of strength for her son and instead of asking ‘why,’ she asked, ‘what can we do?’
“Nothing and no one can actually prepare you for this journey and very quickly you realise that it is a marathon and not a sprint. Believe me, there was many a night I cried but I have always been a glass half full girl, glass half empty simply does not resonate with me,” says Vanessa.
The very next week Joshua was on the operation table for surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain due to a buildup of fluid, and the week after that brought another surgery to reduce the volume of the tumour, which lasted 10 hours. Joshua had a 20% chance of dying on the table.
They waited hours to hear news from the hospital staff and when Joshua came out of surgery he couldn’t move, talk, swallow or walk. He had double vision and was disorientated, this is known as Posterior Fossa Syndrome.
When the results finally came back Joshua didn’t have just any tumour; he had a Pineoblastoma, a type of cancerous growth that develops in the pineal gland. This gland is responsible for producing the hormone melatonin which helps to regulate the body’s sleep patterns. This kind of tumour usually affects children but can occur in adults as well – only one in one million people are affected by this rare tumour.
“How did it feel when I first found out, hard to put into actual words… like you are in a dark tunnel with a train hurtling towards you,” says Vanessa.
After weeks of continuous effort, Joshua was finally able to regain his ability to walk, talk and swallow but has to use special corrective prism glasses for his double vision. He also suffered from short term memory loss which corrected approximately one year after the surgery.
He spent a month in hospital before returning home. In this time, he lost 9kgs and his immune system became severely run down.
While the battle against the tumour continued and Joshua finally came home to recover, the family marched on out of sheer will.
“Pure stubbornness and to be honest, faith enabled us to stay motivated. Basically, we had nothing else, the alternative was too scary,” says Vanessa.
From here on Joshua had to undergo treatment to strengthen his immune system and the first MRI done in April 2019 revealed that the tumour had calcified to the brainstem and shrunk.
“You can throw whatever treatments you like at cancer but if your mind is not strong, you have lost the battle before you even start,” adds Vanessa.
Through the battle, Joshua made many friends along the way and matured greatly.
“Josh has matured beyond his 15 years on this earth and my wish for him is to one day inspire others not to give up, not only in the cancer world, but in anything they put their minds to,” says Vanessa.
As of 2020, he was finally able to return to school to repeat Grade 9 with the will of a warrior and the unwavering smile of a survivor who beat the odds.
For all those out there waging battles of your own, it helps to remember that if young Joshua can rise above such a challenge so can you.
“One that I often come back to is ‘Be kind to yourself and be patient’. Our family has obviously irrevocably been changed forever by this ‘blessing’, we no longer sweat the small stuff and we start each day with gratitude in our hearts,” adds Vanessa.