Sidara’s brave walk – cancer patient fulfils SEA exam promise

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Cancer patient Sidara Akalloo, centre, with her brother Nicholai, father David and mother Simi, at the Grant Memorial Presbyterian School in San Fernando on Thursday, after writing the SEA exam at the
nearby Presentation College. She was unable to sit the exam in March because of her illness. – AYANNA KINSALE

CANCER patient Sidara Akalloo was given a hero’s welcome on Thursday afternoon after she was finally able to sit the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA).

Being able to walk into the exam room by herself was a goal, Sidara, 11, had set after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia a year ago.

Staff and students of Grant Memorial Presbyterian Primary School formed a semicircle and applauded her courage and resilience. Her principal, Donna Ramjhon-Khan, said she is an inspiration to them all.

Friends and relatives joined her parents David and Simi Akalloo, brother Nicholai, and teacher, Tricia Marjardsingh, to say a prayer for her success, before she walked into the exam room at Presentation College on Thursday morning.

Sidara Akalloo gets a hug from principal Donna Ramjohn-Khan at the Grant Memorial Presbyterian Primary School on Thursday. – AYANNA KINSALE

They were there several hours later, around 1.30 pm, when she emerged, to hugs, kisses, tears, congratulatory flowers, balloons, gifts, from teachers and staff of both Grant Memorial and Presentation College, where her father is a teacher.

She walked across Carib Street to her primary school to screams of “Congratulations,” “Well done,” and, “We are proud of you,” from peers and teachers.

Chemotherapy damaged her nerves, and for w hile Sidara, a ballet dancer and athlete, lost the use of her legs. But she refused even to consider using a wheelchair to take her into the exam room.

She also missed out on several months of online classes, as for approximately six weeks she could not even remember her own name. Her grades suffered as she battled near-blindness, but her determination to succeed prevailed.

She suffered another terrible blow the week before the March SEA examination, when she fell ill and had to be taken to the emergency department of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, where she was diagnosed with pancreatitis, liver dysfunction and jaundice.

In the past two weeks, two of her friends – cancer patients – including Triston Ramlochan, died, plunging her into depression

But through it all, Sidara refused to let the disease defeat her and when the Ministry of Education said she could sit the supplemental exam on April 21, she grasped the chance and worked hard to improve her grades.

In the schoolyard of Presentation College on Thursday, Sidara said whatever she did and achieved, it was for Triston and the others who have lost their battle and others who are still fighting to survive.

Sidara Akalloo is greeted by students of the Grant Memorial Presbyterian Primary School after completing the SEA exam at Presentation College, San Fernando, Thursday. – AYANNA KINSALE

She said the exam was easier than she expected, although she was challenged by a few maths questions. While aiming for her first choice – Naparima Girls’ High School – believing she did the work to achieve this, Sidara was open to any of her other choices of school.

“I am happy and proud of myself that I was able to achieve my goal and walk into the exam room.”

Next on her agenda is: “To be able to walk properly, run and dance.

“I am confident I will beat this illness,” she said.

Her mother recalled that after she was discharged from hospital in March, she endured a week of pain.

“Then we restarted chemo after the hospital, and she had immense body pains. She was not able to sleep, she could not sit for too long. You could not touch her like I am touching her now, and that only subsided this morning (Thursday).

“After that, her friend, Triston died. Today is also his funeral, and we are going home to view that. He was supposed to write exams this year, but that had to be pulled.”

Ramlochan. 14, died last week of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which recurred after he was first diagnosed and treated in 2020.

Cancer patient Sidara Akalloo takes a photo with her mother Simi, brother Nicholai, and father David Akalloo after completing the SEA exam at Presentation College San Fernando, Thursday. – AYANNA KINSALE

“So we did have a lot of challenges to get her here, but I am so proud of her. She kept telling me, ‘Mummy. this disease is not me. I really need to do this for the rest of them.’ This is what really kept her going. She was able to visit one of her cancer friends, Giselle Lewis, over the Easter weekend and fly kites. This really lifted her.”

Akalloo, a dean at Rio Claro West Secondary, said, “This is about every child who has an illness. More needs to be done, I don’t know what, to put something in place for children who studied seven years, to achieve their dreams and goals.

“Sidara was diagnosed one year ago and this disease tried to take away all that from her. But she is different. She believes with all of her heart that this disease should never become you, should never beat you and never stop you from accomplishing.

“For all her counterparts who are not here today, our hearts go out to them and to their parents and families.”