Victory against cancer


Nine-year-old Mirjam is a bright girl - reserved at first, but soon opening up about the birthday party she just attended, her hobbies and her dream job: working with horses, that's for sure. Hard to imagine that only a few years ago, Mirjam was gravely ill.
 
At age three, Mirjam Zimmermann was diagnosed with cancer - a Burkitt lymphoma in the neck area. This is a fast-growing, malignant lymphoma that is an enlargement of the lymph nodes and a rare cancer type in Switzerland.
 
Sleepless nights, constant commuting
 
Parents René and Andrea Zimmermann noticed during the summer holidays in 2012 that something was not right. "Mirjam’s breathing paused in her sleep, she ate less and less, and was so tired that she fell asleep whilst playing," says Andrea Zimmermann (48). Following several consultations, examinations and a surgery, Mirjam was diagnosed on 6 September 2012. She fell into a kind of shock; Andrea Zimmermann looks back. "But then you just function. And to a certain extent it was also a relief to finally know the cause and to place her in good medical care."
 
Now the Zimmermanns had to organise themselves. For a month, Mirjam spent almost all her time at the Lucerne Children's Hospital with her mother at her side. Sleepless nights, concern for the well-being of the other children, the constant commuting and the uncertainty of whether the therapy will bear success - today, she can barely comprehend how her family had coped with all this, reflects Andrea Zimmermann.
 
Taking the bald head with humour
 
Most of the tumour could be removed, chemotherapy followed for a total of four months. Due to her stark weight loss, Mirjam had temporarily been fed artificially. Soon her hair began to fall out in bunches. "Fortunately, she took the bald head with humour and said she had a grandad haircut now. She also liked the many colourful hats," says Andrea Zimmermann. Her daughter had mastered this difficult time and the side effects of the therapy very bravely. When asked what she remembers, Mirjam says: "The hospital clowns. They visited us over and over again, and were very funny."
 
The Zimmermanns found support in their families, friends and the community in Neuheim. Also the association Children's Cancer Aid Central Switzerland, where they are members, was a great help during this time. The association offers material as well as immaterial support. Hospital meetups and various events, such as sports car rides or bowling, are organised for those ill and their relatives. "The many conversations with others affected always did good. These contacts are still important to us today," says Andrea Zimmermann. "The siblings too suffer hugely from such an illness". The passionate mother has next to Mirjam three sons aged 19, 16 and 12. "Everyone has handled the subject in his own manner," she recollects. To adequately be there for the other three children had been a major challenge.
 
During exchanges with others affected, she also learned a lot of humility, Zimmermann shares. "With Burkitt's lymphoma, the chances of recovery are very high. Others have a much bigger burden to bear. Time has taught us to truly appreciate one another. As a family today, we are there for each other more consciously.”
 
A folder full of memories
 
The third grader is now considered completely cured. She still has to attend checks once a year. A folder filled with photos, well wishes, a tuft of hair and the catheter that was implanted in Mirjam's chest, document the illness. When mother and daughter look at the mementos together, one immediately senses: These two are a practised team. Andrea Zimmermann says: "My daughter knows exactly what she wants. She always was a strong character, her illness reinforced this."


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