Although a staggering 800 to 1000 South African children are diagnosed with cancer every year, the startling reality, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), is that it’s estimated that around half of paediatric cancer cases are never diagnosed or diagnosed late in the disease, leading to mortality rates as high as 55%. This is despite the fact that South Africa has some of the best paediatric oncologists in the world. For those children who are diagnosed, the journey they face is often long and arduous.
Kids Kicking Cancer is a not-for-profit organisation founded in the US in 1999 by Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, clinical assistant professor of Paediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine, after he lost his young daughter to leukeamia. The organisation seeks to ease the often debilitating challenges these young patients face daily, and and help them gain the strength to face their cancer diagnoses and treatments, and teaching them martial arts skills, incorporating karate, relaxation, meditation and breathing techniques.
It is widely accepted that physical activity can be used as a tool in disease recovery and has been shown to improve outcomes. For children with cancer, an active lifestyle can additionally boost their energy, improve their mood and self-esteem, increase endurance and even stimulate the immune system. Rabbi Goldberg, a master in Choi Kwang Do, believes one cannot underestimate the power of these techniques in helping to empower children as they go through their treatment regime, an experience that is often invasive and dehumanising, with constant examinations and painful procedures to endure. Overwhelming evidence has shown that martial arts and breathing techniques included in the Kids Kicking Cancer programme have significantly reduced the pain in children undergoing cancer treatment.
The Kids Kicking Cancer program is currently changing the lives of over 5000 children in 59 hospitals or institutions across five countries – most recently having been rolled out in South African public hospitals. The program can currently be found in the red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, and the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. The vision is to have martial arts experts helping children in every major hospital around the country.
The program is administered to pediatric oncology patients and their siblings entirely free of charge, and is facilitated by specially trained black belt martial artists. The philosophy is centered around the encouragement of a positive mindset, which helps the children to see themselves as victors, under circumstances that would otherwise leave them feeling like victims.