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  • Writer's pictureHermann Vivier

Surfer Girl Overcomes Cancer

The following article was first published in the Mossel Bay Advertiser on Friday 25th March 2016 Awonkamazizi “Zizi” Sonandi, from kwaNonqaba, Mossel Bay, is a lively nine-year old girl who overcame the odds and survived a struggle with cancer, before joining The Surfer Kids NON-Profit Surfing Programme for marginalised youths.

Zizi surfing at Diaz Beach, Mossel Bay, September 2015

Above: Zizi surfing at Diaz Beach, Mossel Bay, September 2015

At the tender young age of five, Zizi was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, after a biopsy on her kidneys in June 2012.

She was initially admitted to Bayview Hospital, Mossel Bay, in June 2012, to have grommets inserted in her ears, as she was suffering from an ear infection and deafness, which had forced her to learn lip reading.

After the grommets were put in place her hearing improved but her overall situation deteriorated rapidly. She was referred back to Bayview Hospital that same month with pain and inflammation in her kidneys, but a diagnosis could not be made. After a week in Bayview she was transferred to Vincent Palottti in Cape Town, where she reacted positively to treatment and was discharged.

However, after a long taxi ride back to Mossel Bay, her condition again deteriorated. By this time she was also not eating, had lost a lot of weight and had become terribly bloated.

She was back at Bayview Hospital the very next week, but after numerous tests still no diagnosis could be made. All that was found was serious inflammation. Zizi was then transferred back to Vincent Palottti in July 2012 where doctors decided to do a biopsy on her kidneys, which is when they found the cancer.

After the biopsy it was expected that Zizi would stay in Intensive Care for at least three days, but she recovered very quickly and after only one day she was transferred from Vincent Palotti to the The Red Cross Children's Hospital where she was referred to Dr Mark Hendricks at the Haematology and Oncology Clinic.

That very same day a Lumber Puncture was done and she received one dose of Chemotherapy. She also received dialysis twice a day, for three hours at a time, because her kidneys weren't functioning.

Zizi's parents, Mavis and Jospeh, who had been with their daughter throughout this entire ordeal, continued their vigilant watch. They slept on chairs and the hospital floor. “My little daughter, she was just under the machines the whole time”, remembers Mavis.

Zizi stayed at the The Red Cross Children's Hospital from July to December 2012, where she celebrated her sixth birthday and continued to received Chemotherapy between August and December 2012. She also received a platelets transfusion the day before Mavis and Joseph had to return to Mossel Bay.

In early December Zizi was transferred to a CHOC Recovery House as an outpatient. CHOC (Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa) is a Non-Profit Organisation, attached to major hospitals, and provides support to the families of children diagnosed with cancer.

By the end of December 2012 Zizi was sent to St Joseph's Home, also in Cape Town, where she stayed until March 2013, after which she returned to Mossel Bay.

Fast forward two years to September 2015 when Zizi, then eight years old, was recruited as part of the first group of children from kwaNonqaba to join The Surfer Kids Core Surf Program. According to Jenya Zhivaleva, Co-Founder of The Surfer Kids, Zizi has really been one of the stand-outs from the kwaNonqaba group: “Just like all other children, the children we recruit from marginalised communities also love the beach. They enjoy splashing around in the water, but, seeing as they have not had much exposure to ocean sports in general, very rarely do they have an immediate affinity for surfing. This has been our experience with all the other groups we have been running since 2010. However, every now and then we see a child whose curiosity and bravery overpowers their fear of the unknown. Zizi was one of those exceptions.”

Today Zizi doesn't remember much about the whole hospital ordeal, but she does remember St Joseph's Home where they attended church everyday. She also remembers her first time in an aeroplane as she flew back from Cape Town to George, but, she says, flying was nothing special. Coming back to Mossel Bay and meeting her family again, that is her most vivid memory.

When asked about her daughter's new found passion for surfing, Mavis remembers that the doctors warned her that Zizi may try to do whatever it takes to prove that she is not ill and that she does not deserve pity. While Zizi does admit that she is sometimes a little bit scared of bigger waves, she absolutely loves water, she loves swimming and she loves the ocean.

After a recent surf session with The Surfer Kids, Zizi's grommets finally fell out, which, according to her mother is a very good thing, because it means that their job is done and that her daughter is making a full recovery.

Zizi has since been for annual check-ups in Mossel Bay and Cape Town, with her last check-up on the 5th of December 2015, and, like her mother, her Doctors are completely satisfied that she is making a full recovery.

Mavis explained that, although the Doctors do not deem it necessary, they might take Zizi for one more check-up. Just to make sure that all is well. When asked for any final thoughts on her daughters' surfing Mavis emphasized that she loves it, because it reaffirms to her that there is life after illness. Recovery is possible.

Jospeh and Mavis Sonandi would like to thank all those people who helped them through this difficult period. In particular they would like to thank the following people: Briesies Taxis, who helped them with frequent trips between Mossel Bay and Cape Town, Sister Maria Manuel, (Primary Healthcare Manager / Area Manager, Alma Clinic Mossel Bay) Sister D Cillier at the Herbertsdale Clinic, and all their colleagues.

The Surfer Kids, founded in 2010, is a registered Non-Profit Organisation (136-987 NPO) with the mission of “empowering youths from marginalised communities through surfing.” For more info visit:

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