On 12 February 2022, Nadia Lewis (43), from Randburg, Johannesburg, took on the aQuellé Midmar Mile, swimming 1.6km to honour the memory of her son, Hanno, who passed away 8 years ago due to a rare form of cancer.
Hanno’s cancer journey
In June 2013, when Hanno was just 2-and-a-half years old, the happy and healthy boy, who was usually an endless ball of energy, struggled to make it up the driveway when playing with his dad, Tiaan (46), and developed a cough out of the blue that just wouldn’t go away.
Worried about their little boy’s health, Nadia and her husband booked the first available appointment at the paediatrician, who discovered that a mass was impacting Hanno’s right lung and obstructing his air flow.
Whilst in surgery to remove the mass, the Lewis family learned the devastating news that their almost 3-year-old son had a very rare and aggressive soft tissue tumor called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma.
Adding to their heartbreak, Nadia, who was 8-weeks pregnant at the time had found out days before that she had suffered a miscarriage.
Despite encountering serious complications during treatment, Hanno braved chemotherapy for 8 long months, and was due to start radiation, when his cancer metastasized to his brain.
“Hearing that our Hanno had terminal cancer shattered our hearts into a million pieces. We continued with his chemotherapy and radiation for a short while longer, until we decided to stop his treatments altogether, and focus on enjoying every moment we had left with our little man. It was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make” – says Nadia
Surrounded by his parents, Hanno passed away on 19 July 2014, just three days before his 4th birthday; his little brother, Hugo was only 5 weeks old.
In the year that Hanno passed away, Nadia began volunteering for Rainbows and Smiles, a non-profit organisation based in South Africa, which provides emotional, social and financial support to families and caregivers in need when a child of that family is diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
It is here where Nadia found her tribe, her ‘new normal’ and her purpose: ‘making a difference in the lives of these little humans fighting an unfair fight’
“When Bonni Suckling, the founder of Rainbows and Smiles, took me under her wing, I felt comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. She understood the weight of the loss I had experienced, because her son Jed passed away from cancer, too. Her strength and the way she fights for the children we meet still moves me today” says Nadia
Keeping Hanno’s memory alive
The Rainbows and Smiles team and their extraordinary volunteers participate in various fundraising events to support the organization, which receives no government funding.
To keep Hanno’s memory alive, Team Rainbows, dedicates the Midmar Mile swim in particular to Hanno every year, as he had just learned to swim, 3 months before his untimely death.
What made this year even more special is that ‘non-sporty’ Nadia will be an active participant in this year’s event, and not only cheer from the sidelines.
Admittedly a bit nervous for the swim, Nadia, stepped out of her comfort zone to raise much-needed funds for Rainbows and Smiles through crowdfunding on BackaBuddy.
Since the launch of the campaign, over R32 000 has been raised with support from donors both locally and internationally, towards her fundraising target of R12 000, which will support the organisation and the amazing work they do.
“Hanno was so young and resilient. Even through treatment he wouldn’t stop playing, running, and jumping. He was, and still is, such an inspiration to me. I can hear him in the back of my mind cheering us on. I want to make him, and his little brother Hugo proud” says Nadia
‘No one gets left behind’
Staying true to the Hawaiian word ‘Ohana’, which means ‘family’, and the Lilo & Stitch, manta ‘no one gets left behind’, Nadia was joined by her Rainbows and Smiles collegues Bonni Suclkling, Zelda Wessels, Denise Towell and her close friend, Catherine Drysdale, as she braved her fear of ‘dark and murky waters’ for the first time.
The ladies, who have each played a role in Hanno’s life, and have provided tremendous emotional support to Nadia through her healing journey, each wore a letter on their swimsuits, which together, will spell out ‘Hanno’.
“It is so special to have ‘Team Rainbows’ – my best friends – join me on this swim across a full dam. I know they have my back and I have so much love for them” – says Nadia
Support is always needed
Nadia hopes the public will join her, her team members, and the 14 champions swimming to raise funds for Rainbows and Smiles swimmers at the Midmar Mile this year, as the organisation is always in need of public support.
“As an organization, we are thankful for every donation, big and small, that we receive. We meet so many people on a daily basis who are going through the most difficult time in their lives fighting cancer. If we can be there to lend a smile, a helping hand or a word of encouragement, we know it means the world to them”
“A few months ago a social worker put us in touch with a mother who was staying in the hospital ward with her very sick little girl. It was the middle of winter and she had no sandals on her feet, no toiletries, just the clothes on her back. As a small gesture, we bought her a few pairs of warm clothes and fluffy slippers, and she fell to the ground, thanking me. As I helped her to her feet, I was reminded of how important it is for us moms to look after each other. That moment will stay with me forever.” – says Nadia
Support Team Hanno by donating on BackaBuddy:
Alternatively, donate via Snapscan:
Update from Nadia: 4 March 2022
The Midmar 2022 was indeed a very special swim for our team, and we are super grateful to everyone who participated, donated, and cheered from all over the world. Your good vibes, love and support carried me through that dam. There was no way on earth that I would have given up! Not for all the tea in China! Phew, I made it! Word on the street is that I am now classified as an elite athlete. Regardless of my Midmar time
Special thanks to the BackaBuddy team for their support. We were so privileged to receive all the coverage we did through various media platforms, putting our little charity with the big heart on the map. Thank you to EVERYONE who donated and sent messages of well wishes to me and the Team. Thank you so much to each and every swimmer who travelled from a far to honour our children and their loved ones. Lastly to my besties (I am blessed with a few) , family, friends and acquaintances, your love engulfed me. I am honestly the luckiest chick alive – THANK YOU, says Nadia.
Almost 1000 children are diagnosed with cancer in SA every year
The need for cancer awareness is more important now than ever, says Nadia.
“Experts say that around ⅔ of cancers remain unreported and untreated, because of the socio-economic challenges we face as a country, and the lack of awareness around early cancer detection, particularly in children. This means that many individuals don’t get the help they desperately need in time” – says Nadia
Meet ‘Team Rainbows’
Thus far, 14 champions have come on board to pledge their support for Rainbows and Smiles at the aQuellé Midmar Mile. Collectively, they have raised over R56 000 on BackaBuddy:
Raise funds for Rainbows and Smiles
Members of the public can participate in sporting events, pledge their birthdays or simply sign-up to raise funds for Rainbows and Smiles year-round, by setting up a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy here.
How Rainbows and Smiles uses donations:
- Distribution of grocery vouchers.
- Providing basic clothing needs.
- Craft days at the hospitals.
- Assistance with transport for patients and parents to and from hospital by providing funds.
- Assistance with medical expenses
- Psychosocial holistic care.
- Bead Bravery project and comfort room
- Basic medical equipment, like ports, port needles and PPE.
- Assistance basic sanitary ware like nappies, wipes and sanitary pads
- Toys and activity sets delivered on a regular basis.
- Paediatric oncology ward upliftment.
- Sponsorships of workshops where top Dr’s collaborate in the field of Paediatric Oncology.
- Awareness talks at schools and companies.
- Contributing to funerals arranged for the precious children who have passed away.
- Lastly, fuel to reach the hospitals and patients they support.
Connect with Rainbows and Smiles
Rainbows and Smiles is a community based, charitable foundation dedicated to providing emotional, social and financial support to children diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening illness, and their families and caregivers.
For more information visit: https://www.rainbowsandsmiles.org.za
Create a crowdfunding campaign
South Africa’s leading crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy has supported more than 10 000+ individuals and charities in setting up fundraising campaigns for medical fees, tuition and various causes in South Africa. The platform has thus far raised over R290 Million.
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