Courage is a quiet fightJanuary 10th, 2022
It takes courage to persevere when confronted with extreme difficulty. It was this quiet strength that helped teenager Rehanna Nolte prevail despite two bouts of cancer and a life-changing decision she had to make because of the disease. Her story is shared by Ela Meiring, an 18-year-old correspondent from South Africa.
It was a gloomy August morning in 2019 and I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. I took my phone and scrolled through Instagram when I stumbled across a story that made me think twice about how I was feeling at that moment. While I was battling teenage acne, another girl my exact age was faced with a decision that would change the course of her life.
As running is my passion, so was netball to Rehanna Nolte. But not only was she passionate, she was also very good at the sport and always represented her school’s A-team. One day as she was playing, she felt a sharp pain in her left ankle. Thinking she had strained a muscle, the grade 8 student started wearing an ankle brace to practice and tournaments to prevent further injury. But the discomfort did not disappear. In fact, it became worse.
Rehanna was in excruciating pain. The medication she took was not working. The pain made her cry after practice sessions and tournaments and kept her wide awake at nights. But it was when she was forced to ask her netball coach if she could stop playing while her team was in the middle of a tournament that she knew something was seriously wrong. She was pulling out of the sport she loved most. Surely, the issue had to be more than a strained ankle.
The teenager immediately notified her parents that she had to go for X-ray scans as soon as possible. The following day she went to her scheduled appointment, and just an hour later, the orthopaedist contacted the family. It was urgent. Rehanna was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an extremely aggressive type of bone cancer that destroys the tissue and weakens the bone.
She received nine bags of chemotherapy and had to undergo ankle replacement surgery – a procedure which involved replacing her entire ankle and part of her tibia with titanium. She was only the fifth person in South Africa to have received this procedure. Once that operation was successful, she received an additional nine bags of chemotherapy. It was a difficult period, but Rehanna soldiered through. She was now cancer-free and, like the pivoting movement in netball, it seemed her world would once again calmly rotate on its axis.
She was sitting in Biology class in grade 10 when she felt a sharp pain in the area where the titanium was situated. This time, she immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. She was unable to walk due to the pain, so she contacted her parents and they arranged for X-rays to be taken. It was their worst fear. Her cancer had returned – this time in her fibula bone. The sharp pain she felt was due to the enormity of her tumour, resulting in her fibula bone being fractured. The only option the doctor gave Rehanna was to amputate her leg. She had three days to make this life-altering decision.
It was a choice between life and death – a decision that could change the direction of her future. I cannot help but reflect on my own feelings at that point in my life. I had dreaded going to school with my acne-filled face, but my issues were minute when compared to hers. At 16-years-old, Rehanna made the unimaginable resolution to amputate her leg. The very next day, her left leg was amputated below the knee. After that, she received sixteen bags of chemotherapy.
The teenager had chosen life at the expense of a limb. But she was struggling with the trauma of being an amputee and didn’t feel beautiful with her prosthetic leg. Ironically, I thought her to be one of the prettiest and most courageous girls I had ever seen. Unfortunately, one never knows what another person faces in silence.
Three months after her amputation, she stood at the edge of a cliff, ready to end her life. Thankfully, she did not take that irreversible step, but she continued to struggle and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Two years have passed and Rehanna is still cancer-free and is grateful to be alive. While the trauma of her ordeal remains, she has made considerable progress in terms of improving her mental well-being.
There is a quote from Bianca Sparcino that I believe encapsulates the essence of Rehanna’s story. It says “Sometimes courage is a quiet fight, a dim softness within you, that flickers even on your darkest days and reminds you that you are strong, that you are growing – that there is hope.”
Photo Credits: Canva
About Ela Meiring: I’ve always loved writing, my best exam grades always came from essay writing. I also love children and want to give them the best start in life. Because of this, I am currently studying for my Bachelor degree in Foundation Phase Education at STADIO. I enjoy challenges and recently wrote an essay for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition for which I won a silver award.