The late Ryan Burchell (6) who died on 23 August. Photo supplied.
Date: 17 September 2020 By: Andries van Zyl
Almost a month on, many are still struggling to come to grips with the untimely death of the vibrant little Ryan Burchell from Louis Trichardt, who died on 23 August. For just over a year, this brave six-year-old fought valiantly after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma in July 2019.
The cancer started in the bladder muscle. “It was in his lungs, bladder and pelvic bone and was so large it filled his entire pelvis. There is no known cause for childhood cancer,” said parents Tony and Charlotte Burchell.
Ryan went for chemo weekly and had to learn to walk again after his initial biopsy and diagnosis. “He stayed in hospital for two months. His 24-hour chemo was brutal, and sometimes we would stay a week each time due to the side effects. Sometimes blood was required,” said Tony and Charlotte.
Ryan was a busy, intelligent, typical boy who had a zest for life. He was never one to sit for long and never stopped moving. He loved farming and he loved sand. “We sometimes drove through for a week, but eventually Ryan had such a fighting spirit that he did the 24-hour chemo and wanted to leave and get home! He spent eight weeks of daily radiation for bone and chest and abdomen, which was rough as it meant a lot of time away from home and family,” said his parents.
Then came the good news. In March 2020 he was clear - no tumour left! Sadly, the good news did not last. “He finished his chemo protocol as it never gets left unfinished. His six-weeks scan check-up, however, revealed that it [the cancer] had returned with a vengeance. It had spread to his liver, lungs, and pelvic bone. Since there was visibly no cure now, we could only buy time.”
Ryan’s family tried everything, including oral chemo, which was expected to give a partial remission for a year or two. They also added some amazing natural remedies from the UK. “Sadly, it was too aggressive, and he eventually had no more energy left and became bed ridden. His liver was enormous, and he ate very little as he had no space,” said Tony and Charlotte.
Little Ryan celebrated his sixth birthday on 19 August. “He had a beautiful party thrown and amazing people contributed so much to his last birthday party,” said Tony and Charlotte. Four days later, he died. “He died peacefully at home and we are grateful that, on the advice of his doctor, he was not in a hospital when he passed. He was where he wanted to be and where he loved to be and surrounded by those he loved.”
The family had a private blessing, said their goodbyes, and had Ryan cremated. “A memorial will be organized at a later stage when we know exactly what we choose to celebrate about his life. He had the heart of a lion and through all the trauma he never stopped smiling and joking,” said Tony and Charlotte.
Ryan is survived by his father, mother, sister Jade, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. "We would like to say thank you to so many special people. There are, however, too many to mention without leaving someone out. Thank you to the community for the overwhelming support during this very difficult time," said Tony and Charlotte.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.