Lydia & Neo: Update

LydiaNeoSmallYou might remember Lydia and Neo from a previous blog. In that story you learned of the struggles that Neo has had healthwise since his birth and the struggle that Kevin Winge has endured personally since meeting Neo and Lydia in 2003.

I just returned to Cape Town after being back in the states for two months. Prior to my departure at the end of November 2012, Lydia told me that Neo had developed breast cancer in one of his breasts and would be going to the hospital for chemo treatments. The difficulty of being so far away from friends in Cape Town is communication. Lydia does not have access to a computer so I try to contact her by calling her cell phone. I called her on her 54th birthday, which is New Years Day. I know she knew it was me on the phone but I was not able to find out how Neo was before the connection died. I tried calling back but once again it was just very difficult so the first thing I did when I returned was to drive out to Guguletu to see them face to face. Through the generosity of Acacia Global donors, we purchased a food parcel (R400, about $50) to bring to them. I arrived at their home, which is a zinc shack without running water or a bathroom. They get their water from a tap outside their home and use an outhouse. Lydia and Neo live behind Lydia’s step-mother’s home. Lydia and Neo are both HIV+ and they have had a very strained relationship with her family since Lydia became open about her status.

After visiting Lydia and dropping off her food parcel we went over to see Neo at his school. Neo is in the 4th grade, he was in the 4th grade last year. (The school year runs mid January to mid November.) Due to the health issues Neo has he missed so much school last year that he did not pass to grade 5; there were 9 other students that did not pass out of grade 4 so I don’t think Neo really felt bad about his situation. He came running out of his classroom to give me a hug. The first words he said were “Jane, we don’t have any food, I am hungry.” I told him not to worry, he would be happy once he arrived home. The first thing I noticed was Neo’s school uniform, his shirt had two buttons, the shirt is yellow, the collar was white, it was the cardboard that made the collar. His pants and jersey (sweater) were also in such poor condition. I went to talk to the principal, Grace, to ask her if I could take Neo out of school. Grace said it would not be a problem because Neo’s class didn’t have a teacher (another story!). As we were leaving she gave me a list of school items that Neo needed for 4th grade. Lydia did not have the money to afford them. We went to two stores – Neo got two new shirts, a pair of pants, a jersey, shoes, backpack and all the supplies he needed (you know, I completely forgot to ask about underwear. I just took it for granted he had some, but he probably does not!) the total came to R1,000 (about $130.) Again, thank you donors for making this possible for Neo. He looked like a million bucks with his new clothes and the smile on his face showed how proud he was to have new clothes and new backpack.

I drove them back to their house where Lydia informed me that Neo was diagnosed with cancer in his other breast. He will be back in the hospital the end of February for treatment. After all they have gone through and all they continue to go through they always have a smile on their faces and a hug for me and for all who visit them.

Each time I leave Cape Town my fear is what I will or won’t find on my return trip.

Written by Jane Letourneau