Surviving a brain tumour inspired Kirsty Watts to help other kids in need.
When doctors told then 14-year-old Kirsty Watts that she had a malignant brain tumour, she would never have imagined how her own journey in the fight against cancer would lead to her creating a Foundation to assist other sick children less fortunate than her.
If there is one thing Kirsty loves most in life, it’s dancing, so when she started feeling too dizzy and nauseous to go to lessons, she knew something wasn’t right. “I remember one morning, getting out of bed and walking to the door and suddenly realising that my left arm was stroking against the wall when just a second ago I had been walking on the other side of the room,” says Kirsty, now aged 19. “I was falling over and off balance. I went to a doctor who brushed off my symptoms as being hormonal, or caused by iron deficiency or too much sugar, but my instinct kept telling me that it was something more serious.”
A few days later, Kirsty’s instinct proved right when a CT (Computerised Tomography) scan revealed she had a malignant tumour on her brain. “As I walked out of the X-ray room I could feel the nurses treating me differently. I just knew that something wasn’t right. I was left alone in a ward while doctor spoke to my parents. Although it probably took minutes, it felt like hours. Then the doctor came in and told me the news – they had found a ‘tiny spot’ on my brain. Holding up the scans, he said I needed a seven-hour operation. It felt like a nightmare. The reality set in when I was wheeled into the operating theatre.”
The ‘spot’ on Kirsty’s brain was cancer. Doctors were able to remove the entire tumour, followed by six months of chemotherapy and more than a month of radiation. Running her fingers through her beautiful long hair, Kirsty says one of the hardest parts of her treatment was losing her locks.During her treatment, Kirsty met many children of all ages who were also undergoing chemo and radiation. Some of the children were not as lucky as Kirsty. “I soon realised that many kids in our country don’t get the opportunity to receive the kind of treatment and support that I’ve had.”
Pulling out a photograph taken of Kirsty during her treatment, her voice fills with emotion as she starts talking about a boy she met in hospital who lost his fight against cancer. “Even though chemo was terrible, I loved going to the hospital because there were so many children, and I love children. I’d help them with their homework, or just talk to them and tell them they would be okay and that they would get through it and be healthy again.
“Arnold was seven years old when I met him and originally from Botswana. He couldn’t speak English and so couldn’t communicate with anyone, not even the nurses. His mom had had to go back home so he was alone. It broke my heart and over time, we developed a friendship. He started complaining about a sore tummy and it turned out a new tumour had grown inside his stomach but doctors didn’t pick it up in time. I think if his mom had been there with him, she would have been able to communicate with him and something would have been done sooner. I was heartbroken that he didn’t make it. After his death, I told my dad that I really wanted to do something to help other children like Arnold who were going through treatment without the support of their families.”
Because of Arnold, Kirsty started the Kirsty Watts Foundation. The Foundation is funded by fundraising initiatives (golf days, poker evenings, motivational speaking), as well as corporate or personal donations with all proceeds distributed directly to the children identified as requiring assistance for a variety of needs.
“My initial thinking was to raise a little money to maybe pay for a parent or two to come and be with their children during their cancer treatment – or maybe take some of the kids in the cancer ward out for a day to the movies, things like that. I never thought the Foundation would grow as big as it has,” says Kirsty.
Kirsty is studying business science in Cape Town and once a year undergoes a scan to ensure that the cancer has not returned. “The biggest lesson I’ve taken from my experience at beating cancer is how fortunate I am,” she says. “I have a different outlook on life. I still get upset over things but when I’m having a really bad day I remind myself that someone else, somewhere else, is having a worse day. Trivial things are not as important to me as they used to once be.”
brain tumour, Kirsty Watts, cancer, Derek Watts, chemotherapy