by Lorraine Perlotto (Bianca’s mom)
Some people dream of angels …
I held one in my arms …
Bianca was a healthy, active, happy 12 year old girl in Grade 6 at La Rochelle Primary School in Paarl.
She loved music and dancing and was very artistic. She had a beautiful voice, which had been discovered by accident one day. She then started voice training and was a finalist in the Paarl Talent Competition in 1999.
We noticed that she was struggling at school and that her marks were going down. She was very tired and had lost quite a bit of weight. We put this down to the fact that she was almost 13 years old and that her body was going through changes. We were all eating badly as it was extremely hot in Paarl – as all Summers usually are.
In December 1999 she developed a fever and an ear infection. She had strange bruises on her body and eventually had a rash all over. I thought the rash was due to the medication I had given her for her fever. We were Xmas shopping at Green Market Square when she fainted. We went to the doctor on the Saturday afternoon and he told us to go to our GP on Monday to have a blood test done.
I had her at the doctor first thing on Monday morning. I saw his face and became worried. He told us that her liver and spleen were enlarged and that they would have to do a full blood count. An hour later he phoned me at work to tell me that Bianca had leukaemia and that we had to get to Constantiaberg Hospital within the next hour. I called my husband and told him to wait for me before talking to her. We sat her down and explained that we had to get her to hospital to start treatment.
We experienced shock upon shock when Professor Peter Jacobs explained that she had ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia) – a very aggressive leukaemia and would have to start treatment immediately. She was taken up in the isolation ward and a bone marrow biopsy was done immediately. The next morning the doctors operated to insert a J-line into her chest. This is a tube that is put in for transfusions and tests, as it’s easier for the patient than putting drips into their body the whole time.
We were told that she would have to have a bone marrow transplant and that her brother, Alessandro, would be the best bet for a match. The whole family and all our friends were prepared to be tested.
Bianca spent 10 days in the isolation ward, including Xmas. We were delighted when she could come home for New Years. We were all reeling from shock and started adapting to the situation. We built a new room for her with her own bathroom in order to make everything safe and hygienic. She developed diabetes due to the chemo and we had to adapt her diet accordingly.
Before leaving the isolation ward, I cut Bianca’s beautiful long hair as she told me that she would rather have a funky haircut than scraggly, thinning hair. I cut her hair and we went home to colour it a very funky red.
Bianca was very distressed at the news that she would not be able to have babies – a side effect of the chemotherapy. I told her that we would take it one step at a time. She loved children and always wanted her own babies. I was thinking that her not having babies was the least of our worries at that stage. We first had to get her to survive this disease.
Bianca went through 7 weeks of intense chemo and treatment. She was brave and laughing and giggling all the time. While I feared the worst, she inspired me and kept me going.
She contracted a stomach bug and had to be admitted to hospital as her blood count was very low due to the chemo. She had been in hospital for 2 weeks and I could finally take her home. I went through on the Monday night and was told that Prof wanted to keep her overnight just to make sure her temperature was stable. She started having seizures and was taken to ICU at 02:00 the Tuesday morning. The staff of Constantiaberg was wonderful. They put my mom and I in a room in the maternity ward – which is right opposite the ICU. We spent the next 2 days there. On the Wednesday night things started going seriously wrong. Bianca’s blood pressure was going from one extreme to the next – extremely high and extremely low. The lesions and also the chemo had affected the part of the brain that controls blood pressure.
Bianca passed away peacefully at 06:25 Thursday morning 10 February 2000. I had been begging her all night to fight but her body just couldn’t cope anymore. I held her hand and told her that it was OK and that I would understand if she could not hold on any longer. She smiled and passed away. She was finally at peace and would have no more pain.
Bianca affected so many people in her short life. I feel honoured that this amazing soul chose to be born through me. She touched my soul and changed my life forever.
Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some people move our souls to dance.
They awaken us to new understanding with the
passing whisper of their wisdom.
Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.
They stay in our lives for awhile,
leave footprints on our hearts
and we are never, ever the same.
A butterfly lights beside us
like a sunbeam.
And for a brief moment
its glory and beauty
belong to our world.
But then it flies on again,
and though we wish
it could have stayed,
we feel so lucky