Six-and-a-half-year-old Zachary Williams leaned into his mom’s hug one last time before walking up the steps to his brightly decorated class to start Grade 1 at a primary school in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville.
Lee-Anne Scullard gave Zachary a last kiss goodbye as the bell rang, and she and his granny Sheila watched him go back to the classroom.
He had already found his seat earlier, and his bag was neatly lined up.
There was a slight bottleneck at the door as parents and guardians streamed in and out, some embarrassed that they had missed the first bell in the congestion that back-to-school brings.
Zachary waited politely as a future classmate’s dad lingered at the door to make absolutely sure his son had settled in nicely.
“Say ‘excuse me, please’,” said Lee-Anne in a stage whisper, and Zachary disappeared inside to join the teacher he had already declared to be “nice”.
It is not just a big day for him, but also for his mom Lee-Anne, a survivor of cancer, who watched her “miracle baby” start the next chapter of his life.
When Lee-Anne heard the devastating news that she was gravely ill in the early 2000s, and was told of the treatment options available, she was also told that her ovarian tissues and eggs might be damaged by chemotherapy and radiation.
This meant she might have difficulty becoming pregnant. She was referred to the Cape Fertility Centre for advice on how she could try and preserve her fertility if she wanted to.
She was told about a relatively rare and new procedure known as ovarian tissue freezing and decided to go ahead with it. At the time in 2004, less than 15 people had gone through the procedure across the world, according to the Cape Times.
Lee-Anne was one of the first women in Africa to consider this treatment, according to the 2013 report.
She had a laparoscopy, which is a less invasive surgical procedure. The ovary is removed and ovarian tissue that contains the eggs is frozen at an extreme temperature.
‘He knows he is special’
After her chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, she was given the all clear after a few years, and was ready for the reimplanting procedure in 2010.
The procedure was a success and, three years later, she would give birth to a son, Zachary.
To her knowledge, Lee-Anne is the first woman in South Africa to have had a child through this intervention, which is increasingly being chosen by people receiving treatment for cancer.
“He knows he is special,” said Lee-Anne lovingly.
His favourite things to do are swimming, jumping on the trampoline (after mom banned him from jumping on her bed and invested in one), and football.
On Tuesday night, he helped mom do the last of the seemingly endless stationery labelling, and it was off to an early night.
Asked what he was looking forward to the most, he said: “Making new friends.”