Archive | September 2014

In denial

It was the beginning of 2009 and apart from having established a good routine for myself in terms of exercise and work habits, I had stepped up the intensity of my exercise somewhat in an earnest attempt to lose some weight in preparation for the holidays. I would alternate daily between Hatha yoga and running on the treadmill and it was going well until I was doing yoga one day and went into Bow pose. For those not entirely familiar with yoga, this pose is when you lie on your stomach and, holding your feet with your hands, you slowly and gently push your feet away from you. This provides the action of enabling the muscles of the spine and lifts both ends of your body off the floor, creating a bow like action. It is a strong pose that takes a lot of practice and strength. Lets just say that on this particular occasion I went into bow pose and had some trouble coming out of it. To put it bluntly, I pinched a nerve in my lower back. That in itself sounds benign enough but it was excruciatingly painful. To make matters worse, not long before that I had taken two falls off the horse and herniated a disk. This was where I’d pinched the nerve and where my pain was radiating from. Luckily my mobile phone wasn’t far away. Lowering my body very, very slowly I eventually got my legs to the floor again and in short,  leopard crawled over to my phone where I made two phone calls. One to my friend asking her to collect the girls from school for me and the other to my husband, pleading with him in tears to come home and help me.

That was me flat on my back in agony for a week, my days consisting of warm packs, Radian massage gel and copious amounts of painkillers. About two weeks later however, I had fully recovered and was back into my exercise routine again, this time without Bow pose in the mix. This was when the pain slowly but surely started to creep up on me over the weeks and months. By May, I had to stop exercising altogether. The pain in my lower back and hips had become crushing. I had pushed my body too hard and was paying the price for it dearly, having to bum walk down the stairs just to get the car keys to go and fetch the girls from school. I was literally crawling around the house, the family looking on with great concern.

I was not concerned about my growing pain. It never once crossed my mind that it could be something sinister because of the simple fact that I was still seeing my physician every 6 months, who was examining me and conducting tumor marker blood tests. These are tests that measure your white blood cell activity and if your white blood cell count spikes, then it is an indication of some sort of infection or if you’re a cancer patient, unfortunately something potentially a lot more serious than that. My white blood cell count results were consistently normal indicating on the face of things that all was fine, so what did I have to worry about? I put it down to pushing myself too hard and I started taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement while I was at it. It wasn’t long after that and we were off on holiday. We were so relieved to be escaping the summer heat to cooler climes and the excitement was palpable.

Holiday pic

On holiday in South Africa in 2009

I spent the entire holiday hobbling around, wrapped up in the warmest blanket I could get my hands on while warm packs and painkillers were my staple diet. I was miserable and couldn’t participate in many of the activities that my family and extended members were enjoying so much. I kept on wondering what was causing me so much pain the whole time. The really troubling thing was that there was no logical explanation for any of it. Looking at everybody running around like agile fleas and having great fun, I knew that the right thing to do would be to make an appointment with the doctor when I got back home to get to the bottom of it all. I think I knew even then that I wasn’t going to like what I would hear, but it looked like I didn’t have much of a choice anymore. I tried to forget about if for the rest of the holiday, determined to enjoy what was left of it as much as I could under the circumstances. I would deal with the problem when I got back home again.

This entry was posted on September 29, 2014.

Back in time- continued

I could not believe what I was seeing. Everybody in the 4×4 was absolutely frozen in total disbelief of the situation unfolding. Looking through the little glass window into the front cabin, I saw my moms face…her huge brown eyes looking like a deer caught in headlights. Her friend Marion seated next to her spontaneously burst into tears. Our next door neighbor Andy who had so enthusiastically volunteered to help us that day, leaped off the back of the 4×4 and ran headlong into the bushes as fast as his cowardly legs could carry him. I think I was around 8 years old at the time and despite my age I have to embarrassingly enough admit that due to the gravity of what was taking place, my bladder decided to give in on me as I soaked myself completely. Someone started screaming although I don’t recall who it was, while one of our friends who was on the back of the 4×4 with us conspicuously threw himself on top of the tree to try and cover up our crime. Thinking about it afterwards, I couldn’t stop laughing about that one small action taken in desperation because as he landed on the tree you could clearly hear some of the branches snapping and rustling. It would’ve taken a totally deaf person to not hear that. My aunt reluctantly rolled down the window as the policeman arrived at our vehicle and proceeded with his interrogation.

As the situation was unfolding, there was a tone in this policeman’s voice that was vaguely familiar to me although I just couldn’t put my finger on it. As far as I’m concerned there is a discrepancy to this day between who realized first what was actually going on here. My sister Karen claims the prize while my aunt says she recognized his hands first before anybody else. My aunt leaped out of the 4×4 as she suddenly recognized that it was in fact my uncle who was playing a practical joke on us. At first she was not impressed…standing in the middle of the main road really letting him have it for all she was worth, while he hysterically laughed like a Hyena. Once everybody had calmed down, we then had the task if having to track Andy down. After a few minutes he sheepishly appeared through the bushes and upon hearing that it was all just a joke, was seriously hanging his head in shame. With his tail between his legs, he climbed back onto the 4×4.

Now it all made sense to us as to why he had so slyly bowed out of helping us that year. He had been plotting against us for several days, arranging a policeman’s uniform through a friend of his at the police department, saying that he needed it for a fancy dress that they were attending.

Arriving home, unloading the tree and hauling it into the sitting room I was never so glad to be back on home turf. After my change of underwear and much teasing from everybody else, we continued the task of decorating it. Adorning the tree with baubles and tinsel that year somehow seemed a much more special occasion.

I’m not sure how the whole tradition of getting a Christmas tree like this started in our family. Karen would probably be more clear on that and I’ll let you know, but the stunt my uncle pulled on us that year didn’t stop us. We continued for many years after that to enjoy the excitement and camaraderie that came with banding together against the rest of the world in getting our grubby little paws on our tree, which always stood proudly in our sitting room bursting with character. It was always a tree that was so much more appreciated than anybody else’s because of the effort we’d gone to, to get it in the first place. And just in case you’re wondering, I have never been able to live down the fact that I wet my pants that day!

This entry was posted on September 26, 2014.

Back in time

When I started this blog, it was with the intention of mixing it up a little. Although it is about my experiences with breast cancer I don’t want it to be all about that.

On that note I’d like to tell you a story or two about my childhood. Obviously I can’t tell all in one blog, so I’ll be spreading the tales out in the weeks and months to come. Some of them will be hilarious, some not so much I’m afraid. I spent my happiest days down by the seaside where we went for our long summer vacations every December. We always went with my aunt and uncle who were like a second mother and father to my sister and I. They both had a cracking sense of humor and were very sociable and popular people. They were very well known in the small seaside village where we used to spend 5 glorious, sunny weeks each year. As a result, the small and should I say ‘rustic’ cottage which served as our humble abode was often over crowded with visitors constantly coming and going. It pretty much felt like Park station most of the time. I thrived on the hive of activity to be honest.

Xmas photo

Not a terribly good photo, but the tree stands center stage. I am sitting to the left and my sister Karen on the right. One of our domestic workers was rather pleased with the bottle of wine she received for Christmas! I am about 12 years old here.

I’m not by any means advocating stealing in any shape or form and very importantly neither did any of my family members, but we had a family tradition in the form of acquiring a Christmas tree. For as long as I can remember we always had a real, not artificial tree that would stand in the living room and as long as the adults had anything to do with it that wasn’t going to change any time soon. So, a few weeks before Christmas we would launch a plan of epic proportions to go to one of the nearby farms and kind of like umm…take a tree. A concrete plan would be put in place and everybody had a specific duty and role to play in all of it. Even the next door neighbor…a young lad by the name of Andy was in on the action. A day and time would be chosen. The time was more important than the day, simply because of the fact that the operation was always carried out in the late afternoon, when everybody was at home having a lazy siesta or when, more importantly, the police were hopefully least expecting it. To add to the fever pitch excitement and apprehension, we were told as children that if we were caught stealing this tree, that we would be thrown in jail and spend Christmas behind bars. This was of course total nonsense, but we were too young at one stage to realize that. The adults just told us this to keep us on our toes as well as to add to the excitement of it all.

On one particular year and very uncharacteristically, my uncle made an excuse to get out of accompanying us to get the tree. I can’t remember the excuse he made but we weren’t fazed. We carried on as usual and one afternoon with a whole bunch of towels, we all leapt enthusiastically onto the back of the 4×4, and with my aunt driving and my mum and another friend in the front cab, we set off. Sitting on the back for all to see, we tried to look as casual as possible . Ironically enough, we had a heap of brightly colored beach towels to throw over the tree once it had made it onto the back of the 4×4 to disguise it. Like that wasn’t going to look conspicuous enough! Never mind, we had an extra set of hands to help us that year and after we had found the ideal spot to pull over onto the side of the road two people leapt out, ran across the road and jumped over the fence with an axe. The 4×4 then drove on so as not to attract unwanted attention, to return 10 minutes later.  The two able bodied adults responsible for getting their hands on a decent specimen had to be ready to pass it over the fence to yet two more people (which on a few occasions was me) so that it could be thrown as quickly as possible onto the 4×4 to make a break for it. This particular year was no exception and we were all back in the 4×4 and on our way home, proud of ourselves that we’d pulled it off once again. We were in high spirits with the adrenalin racing through our veins. At one point we had to stop at an intersection to turn right onto the main road back into the village. We were waiting for a car to pass before we could move again when suddenly, we all saw movement out of the corner of our eyes. We looked on in horror as a policemen stepped out from behind the bushes and came striding purposefully across the road towards us. Never had our adrenalin levels plummeted so fast.

This entry was posted on September 23, 2014.

A double edged sword

Soon after I had finally completed my treatments, I visited every book store imaginable in my quest to get my hands on as many books on breast cancer as I possibly could. I would absorb them like the proverbial sponge and then go out for more. Some people including my own husband asked me if I didn’t perhaps think I was getting a little carried away or perhaps even becoming a bit obsessive. My answer was a big NO! I would say that if I was going onto the internet all the time and scaring the life out of myself reading up on statistics, then yes. You see the thing about statistics is that they are highly over rated and that is all they are, just statistics not facts. Scientists and doctors have seen fit to automatically slap a life span onto every cancer survivor based on how previous sufferers have responded to treatment. They then go and put it out there for everybody to read, including people who have just been diagnosed and are traumatized. Your initial instincts and yes I had those too in the beginning, is to drown yourself in those statistics. It is terrifying not knowing what is going to happen next when you are hanging from a sheer cliff face by your fingernails. I personally wish that I could banish those ridiculous internet sites altogether once and for all.  The reality is that everybody’s journey with breast cancer is vastly different. No two people share the same DNA or chemistry, therefore cancer cells and how they react and metastasize also can vary greatly. How people respond to treatments also differ just as much therefore nobody can really know for sure what the outcome is going to be. I don’t care if the scientists surname is Einstein, no one has the right to play God and predict how long a person is going to live for. That is like saying that we are the only existing life forms in the universe. Not only is it arrogant beyond measure, but it is also being plain narrow minded.Horse riding

The much more sensible thing to do in my mind is to get the facts and arm yourself with as much knowledge about your specific type of cancer as possible. First of all it helps to control the fear factor as well as helping you to make far more informed decisions regarding surgery and treatments further down the line, thereby avoiding any regrets later. If reading book after book is your way of holding onto your sanity, then so be it, but whatever you do, stay away from statistics.

Apart from reading book after book though, my time after treatment was also a real learning curve. Obviously it taught me how fragile life was and how quickly it could be ripped out from underneath you, but for the first time in my life I learnt to slow down and really appreciate every day for the special occasion it was. My personal relationships with both family and friends became far more meaningful and precious to me as I never took a single moment from there on out that I spent with them for granted ever again. Breast cancer is no doubt a life changing experience, but I got to the point where I was determined to take the good out of the bad and run with it. I still had three little girls to raise and I was sure as hell not going down without a fight.

Between writing assignments for a course that I had embarked on, I started taking horse riding lessons which is what I’d longed to do for many years. The girls did it with me and we used this valuable girl time to have fun together and cement our bonds. I also took up Hatha yoga which I found helped me to relax and taught me to remain more focused on the present.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and your treatments are behind you, one tends to fall into a rather unnerving lull right afterwards. All the fuss and attention that you received from the doctors and nurses during your treatments are now gone and it can easily feel like your safety net has been cut. That in itself is easy enough to get through by staying busy, but what follows afterwards is a little more challenging. It becomes a double edged sword that hangs over your head and you wonder whether your cancer might ever come back in the future. With time this idea or fear if you will, fades the further away you get from your initial diagnosis. This leads me to yet another dead line that doctors have set…you know, the one where if you don’t relapse for 5 years after you’ve been diagnosed, then you have the same chance of getting breast cancer again as any other normal person on the street. Sadly this isn’t always the case, as I found out the hard way.

This entry was posted on September 21, 2014.

Lessons learnt

I think everyone can agree that once you’ve had to face your mortality and you survive to tell the tale, you are not the same person afterwards. This is of course going to sound very clichéd but people mention this over and over again because it is simply the truth and undeniable. The sun really does shine more brightly, the sky appears bluer than ever, a birds song more lovely than you had ever realized before. Your senses are heightened and when you open your eyes upon waking in the mornings, you celebrate the fact that you get to spend another day with your family and friends. Every day that dawns is considered a special gift not to be taken for granted, but to be lived to the fullest. I would like to share a short story with you. It is one that I wrote based on a dream that I had one night not long after my treatment had finished, and that has repeated itself many times since. I hope you enjoy it.

What a wonderful life

Getting out of bed I notice that my knees are not hurting like they normally do. What a refreshing change. Upon opening the curtains my suspicions are confirmed. It is a lovely sunny day, and outside my bedroom window is a majestic looking oak tree. This time of year the leaves are green and lush. On one of the branches I see a row of little grey birds sitting there and chirping to each other. They are normally very ordinary looking birds, but today they somehow yield a beauty I’ve never acknowledged before. I also notice a little squirrel nervously scuttling around at lightning speed on one of the lower branches. It holds a small acorn between its paws and holds its fluffy tail high in the air. Two beautiful white stripes flow down the centre of its back, starting from the top of the head and following through to the tip of the tail. The squirrel stops and whips its head from side to side, sensing danger. Perhaps it can feel me looking at it. Turning around and walking to the bathroom, I realize that my back and hips don’t hurt that much either. I turn on the shower and start to strip out of my pajamas, while I stare at my face in the mirror. Not bad for forty. I climb into the shower and close my eyes, feeling the gooseflesh appearing on my skin as the warmth of the water soothes me down to my bones. Opening my exfoliating body wash, I revel like never before in the delicious smell of the raspberries, while buffing my body to perfection. Getting out, I dry myself and throw my luxurious, thick white towel on the floor, not caring to hang it up as normal. I do not pay much attention to my appearance today, just throwing on a pair of light blue denims with a figure hugging white T-shirt. My favorite since it shows off my slim silhouette that I take great pride in, especially after becoming a mother. I leave my hair soaking wet and un-brushed.

I bound down the stairs almost like a sixteen year- old. I haven’t been able to do that for many years. Breezing through the dining room and opening the sliding door that leads out into the garden, I am very intent on going outside into nature this morning. Normally I prefer to just stay in bed and read a book or watch some television. My husband and I like to lie in like that over the weekends. Just after we got married we would wake up, put our sneakers on and pound the pavements, while watching the sun make its first timid appearance on the horizon, surrounded by the scattered, rich hues of orange and red adorning it. Fifteen years, a child and illness have put a stop to what now seems like a distant and dismal attempt at a healthy lifestyle. Walking towards the deck chair, I look over at the swimming pool. The dark blue and crisp looking water looks so refreshing and inviting. Without hesitation I run and dive into the water. The sudden coldness almost sucks all the air out of my lungs and stings the surface of my body like sharp pin pricks, but somehow it does not seem to matter. I am so in the moment as I fully embrace the shock of the icy water, feeling the bubbles tickling my skin. I swim under the water, reaching out to touch the floor of the pool and brush the smooth tiles with the tips of my fingers, while I make my way to the other side and get out. Making for the deck chair I lie down and quite enjoy the contrast of the cold, wet clothes on my skin against the intense warmth of the cushion. I lie back and sigh, as the comforting heat from the mid-morning sun settles onto my face. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flower bed filled with sweet-peas that I planted at the beginning of the summer. I get up and go over to them, bending over to smell them. The intoxicatingly sweet smell floods my nostrils, as I take a deep breath in an attempt to take in as much of it as possible. These have forever been my favorite, and I always make a point of putting lots of them in vases around the house when we are expecting guests. There is simply no better fragrance.

I decide to go and get changed out of my wet clothes. Walking through the sliding doors, I hear screaming and crying coming from up stairs. In a sudden panic I bound up the stairs, taking two at a time with my new found strength and agility. As I am halfway up the top flight of stairs and look up to the landing, a horrifying scene greets me. My husband has his back to me and is kneeling over someone lying sprawled on the floor, totally limp and not moving at all. My eldest daughter is kneeling on the other side of the person, grasping a hand with both of hers. Frozen to the spot by paralyzing fear, I cannot bring myself to walk further up to see who it is. I am too afraid to know. My husband has the phone in his hand and he shouts into it.

“When is the ambulance going to get here…I don’t think she’s breathing and I’ve tried everything. I’ve done exactly what you asked me to do and it isn’t working. Please hurry, I beg of you!”

Without thinking, in utter frustration and desperation, he throws the phone against the wall. Pieces of black plastic and small electronic parts shoot in all directions, as it smashes into a million pieces. He is now sobbing out loud as he lowers his head onto the person’s chest and says, “Please breathe…don’t leave me now just breathe, please hang on, they’ll be here soon I promise you, oh God NO!”

My daughter is now wailing. Pain, agony and helplessness are clearly audible in her cries. She is tugging at the person’s arm screaming, “Wake up, you can’t go anywhere now I need you… come on!” What a wonderful life Page 4

I hear men coming up the stairs behind me, and instinctively move out of the way so that they can pass through. My husband jumps up so that they have space to do their job. He takes my daughter by her arm, and tries to help her up to get her out of the way, but she won’t let go of the person’s arm. She is now hysterical and screaming. One of the paramedics helps him to heave her up with force under her arms, and swiftly moves her aside. They stand aside and wrap their arms tightly around each other and sob, their eyes large and wild with fear and disbelief at the situation. Their faces are ashen from shock and horror. There are too many people hovering around and I cannot see who it is. It seems like an eternity that the paramedics spend, trying to help whoever it is that is in such a desperate situation, but when one of them leans back with a look of despair on his face, and lets the paddles drop from his hands to the floor, I realize it is all over.

One of them looks up at my husband and daughter and shakes his head.

“I’m so sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.”

My daughter drops to her knees and crawls over to the lifeless body, and putting her head down on its chest, she emits a guttural cry as if she has been mortally wounded. My husband just stands there, looking down with a look of utter devastation and defeat consuming his face, his mouth agape. The tears fall silently down his cheeks. He backs against the wall and slides down onto his haunches, resting his head on his knees while wrapping his arms around his legs. His shoulders shake as he sobs.

It is at that point that I get to see who is lying on the floor. I see all of her scars that she accumulated along the way, as she bravely fought her own private battle with cancer. I realize that my husband and daughter are crying about me. It’s me lying there. My gaunt and wasted body is whitish-grey. My finger and toenails have become blue from lack of oxygen. My eye sockets are framed with purplish-black rings, a testament to how exhausted and sick I was.

I suddenly jerk awake and sit bolt upright, gasping for breath. I realize I’ve been crying in my sleep, and that the same awful nightmare has played itself out again. I have been plagued with this dream for weeks now. Wiping the tears from my cheeks with my fingers I hear the heartwarming chirping of the birds outside, and realize that it is morning. Getting out of bed and wandering to the window, I feel the familiar pain and stiffness in my joints. I open the curtains and sit down on the chaise longue, appreciating the size and grace of the oak tree outside my window as well as the fretful activity of the birds on the branches.

I am still alive and living with cancer. I have been battling with a dark cloud that has been hanging over my head, ever since I discovered that the cancer had come back two years ago, living in fear as to what will happen next and wondering when the end will come. No matter how many times in the past my doctor has told me that everything will be alright, this dark frame of mind has still relentlessly prevailed, like a double edged sword hanging over my head.

I think more about this awful dream, and realize that I am being pushed to breaking point. Either I can relent and take the easy way out, or I can try to figure out what this dream is trying to tell me. I know that if I choose the easy way out, it will torture my husband and child for the rest of their lives. I have fought so hard thus far just to stay alive, and it can’t be all for nothing. I realize I have to change my mind set. I cannot go on torturing myself this way.

I know that if I am to go on to be a loving and successful wife and mother, then I need to change from pessimism and despair to optimism and hope.

They say that your attitude can make all the difference to how long you live after your diagnosis, but it is much easier to make a statement like that when you aren’t the one living with the cancer inside your own body.

I remember something my late mother always used to tell me when I was inconsolable about something trivial that had happened to me when I was a child.

“What is the point in worrying about something, when you can’t do anything about it right now? All you are doing is wasting precious energy, energy that you could be using doing other much more meaningful things. You are not meant to know what the future will bring, only to take it one day at a time; one moment at a time.”

It suddenly hits me that living in the moment is what I’m supposed to be doing, not harping on about the past or fretting about the future. Living in the moment is the only way I can be truly happy, and give the love to my family that they truly deserve.

I make a promise to myself to move forward, and to treasure every moment of every day that I have left. Doing anything less than that is not honoring what remains of my life. That way, when my end eventually does arrive, I can look to the heavens without any recriminations and know that l have also taught my daughter to live her life to the fullest, and to have the courage to stand up to whatever obstacles she comes up against. When this is all over, she will know better than anybody else how fragile life is. That it is never to be taken for granted, and is to be treasured. That every morning when you wake up and realize you are still alive, it is a gift and a reason to celebrate.

The bedroom door opens ever so slightly, and I hear the little tinkling bell hanging from the collar around my beloved cat’s neck. He wonders in nonchalantly and rubs himself against my leg. I pick him up and flipping him onto his back, I bury my face in his soft and furry white belly, giving him a few kisses. He starts to purr loudly and I hoist him onto my shoulder and close my eyes, focusing on the blissful sound. The wonderful aroma of brewing coffee with toast, bacon and eggs reaches my nose which explains why my husband is nowhere to be seen. I hear my daughter’s laughter coming from down the passage way.

I get up and putting my dressing gown and slippers on, I take one last look at the oak tree and smile. Four weeks to go till Christmas. It is time to hang up the decorations. I think I will put them up a bit earlier each year from now on. I turn to head downstairs to the kitchen. Today is the first day of the rest of my life, and what a wonderful life it is!

This entry was posted on September 19, 2014.

Heeding the warning signs

I still find it amazing how so many people approaching the end of their high school careers just know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. They then go off to college and are so admirably focused on their goals and direction. I’m afraid I wasn’t one of those. I fell into the category of people who have to either bang their heads against the wall repeatedly or are forced to face their mortality head on to wake up and realize what they’re meant to do with the rest of their lives. This begs the next million dollar question. Are we really put on this earth to fulfill a certain role? Are our paths and destinies predetermined? Yes, we are all certainly born with talents…gifts that the vast majority of us feel obliged to share with the rest of the world and hopefully help someone along the way or at the very least, make a valuable contribution to society. I have to be completely honest with you all on this note and tell you that when I was diagnosed with my breast cancer, my faith in the higher powers that be were shaken to the core and tested to the limit. I’m still working on restoring that and I don’t know for sure if I’ll ever get all of it back. I’m not going to tread the very delicate ground of religion here and I’ve always prided myself in being able to respect others religious beliefs and cultures, but is there not a remote possibility that sometimes some things just happen at random. That sometimes the universe sees fit to mercilessly throw us a serious curve ball?

Whatever the answer to all these questions, in the midst of picking up the pieces after my treatment was over, I realized that I should’ve listened to my father all those years ago and gone to study Journalism. As usual however, I thought I knew better and proceeded to waste a year of my life studying Beauty Technology which I decided in the end wasn’t my forte. I then wanted to start earning my own money and entered the banking industry where I remained for 10 years until we left South Africa for the UAE. Once I’d achieved some sense of normalcy in my life I decided to give a writing course a go and realized that my father was indeed right. I’d finally found my niche. Pity it took me 35 long years to realize what I was supposed to do. Talk about slow!

Rochelle at school

A very sad Rochelle on her first day in grade 1.

In the midst of all this frenetic activity, my eldest daughter Rochelle began grade 1 while her twin sisters went into kindergarten. I failed to see the warning signs. Rochelle’s teacher phoned me about a month into the school year and asked me to go in and see her. I immediately knew something was up. Right before my treatments were due to start, I had told Rochelle very briefly what would happen to me when I took the medicine. I didn’t want to give her too much information at the time as I didn’t want to scare her. I had made it clear to her that if she was ever worried or had any questions that she could always come and talk to me. I firmly believe that most of the time a child asks questions when they’re ready to hear the answers. However, I underestimated my child’s astuteness and I don’t think she was capable of articulating herself well enough at 5 going on 6 years old. After the meeting with her teacher, I realized that Rochelle was completely traumatized. She wasn’t participating in class activities and wasn’t talking in lessons either. She would go to school and not say one word the whole day. On the day that the teacher had asked me to come in and see her, she had sat Rochelle down and asked her what was wrong. Her eyes just welled up with tears as she started crying saying she wanted to go home to be with her mummy because she was afraid that mummy was going to leave forever. It became a very emotionally charged meeting as I also started crying upon hearing that. It broke my heart.

I was so grateful for the teachers swift action in contacting me and getting Rochelle in with the school counsellor. I beat myself up for weeks after that, but in my defense it would have been very difficult for me to pick up on the signs, as she was a completely different little girl upon arriving home. Her teacher wouldn’t have recognized her at home in all her rambunctiousness. After starting with counselling, Rochelle slowly but surely improved and a year later she was functioning normally in her school environment and interacting with her teacher and friends on a normal, healthy level again. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength. In hindsight I had originally done the right thing in telling all the girls teachers about my situation, and in asking them to report any signs of stress in the girls. I think it was that proactivity that paid off in the end.

This entry was posted on September 17, 2014.

Reconstructive surgery

Post surg pic1

Me and the girls about 2 years after my reconstructive surgery.

About a year after I’d completed my treatments and was achieving a new sense of normalcy in my life again, I was getting rather tired of wearing a prosthesis the whole time. I was ready to address the possibility of reconstructive surgery. We were referred to and consulted with an American plastic surgeon who had a sterling reputation and was practicing between Abu Dhabi and Washington DC at the time. After a long discussion we were given all the options and sent home to process it all and come to a decision. At the time I was very rigid in my way of thinking and therefore there was no way that I was going to have any sort of foreign or unnatural object in my body, so after much thought and debate between Jaco and I, I decided to go for the Gold Standard Tram flap. This decision wasn’t taken lightly as it is a highly invasive procedure with many risks that go along with it, possible rejection being one of them. It involves taking the upper stomach muscles that are situated just below the breasts, severing the blood supply between them and the lower stomach muscles and physically bringing them up to your chest wall to form breasts. I also made an even more radical decision at this point, choosing to have a mastectomy on the right side as well so that the stomach muscles could be brought up on both sides. This would also apparently reduce my risk of a recurrence later on.

My plastic surgeon had informed me of all the risks and told me that because it was such a complicated and long procedure fraught with risks, there were going to be no less than 15 other doctors in surgery with me. Amongst them was the anesthetist, general surgeons to assist as well as an interventionist in case I stopped breathing. I had the utmost faith in this doctor and although I was afraid, I was sure that I wanted to go ahead with it.

Being wheeled into surgery, my stomach was doing somersaults as I clutched onto Jaco’s hand for dear life. I kept on telling him how afraid I was. My mouth was dry and it felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. I closed my eyes and prayed to God and to my mother to get me through this. As we approached the doors to the theatre a doctor approached me and said, ‘You’ll just feel a small prick as I give you this sedative…nothing to worry about.’

The last thing I remember was looking up at Jaco’s face as it suddenly began to fade into darkness. It was a powerful sedative that put me to sleep immediately. The operation took 7 hours and when I came around after it was all over, I wished that I was still asleep…that I could remain asleep until the healing was done. The pain on a scale of 1-10 was an 11. It was excruciating. I literally felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I was cold and shivering uncontrollably and the more I tensed up from that, the more I’d feel the searing pain emanating from my abdomen. I started crying and begging for something to take the pain away. As I battled to breathe, all I remember yet again was the oxygen mask being put on my face and yet another sedative knocking me out. I was never so glad to be going to sleep. A few hours later I came around and this time there was morphine in the mix which allowed me to breathe more easily and get my bearings. I had 4 drainage tubes, two coming out of each breast and two more coming out of my stomach. Not a pretty sight. To add to it all, I developed an uncontrollable cough from the intubation tube that they had put down my throat allowing me to breathe during surgery, which had caused irritation. Each cough was agonizing as I clutched a pillow to my stomach which didn’t help at all really. As the days passed however the pain became more tolerable and the swelling went down.

I left the hospital and went home just 6 days later. In the end the results were very good. The plastic surgeon definitely knew what he was doing, but in order to achieve perfect symmetry, he had to resort to putting in a small saline implant on the left side anyway, which meant going under anesthetic and the knife twice putting my body under even  more strain. In hindsight if I could’ve foreseen that happening and taking everything else into consideration, I think the option of just having implants put in to start with would have been the wiser and definitely less painful route to go. The good news is that there was no rejection and I have since never had any complications. All’s well that end’s well.

 

This entry was posted on September 15, 2014.

Moving forward

I was so excited for my last session of chemotherapy. Finishing chemo meant moving forward with my life and not being a cancer patient anymore, but for a change just being good old me. I gradually went from seeing my doctor for screening every 3 months to every 6 months. At each screening session I would be examined and would have a tumor marker blood test done, which would measure my white blood cell activity. After each test I would hold my breath for the next 2 days or so until I got the results, and each time I was lucky enough to be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief and move on, knowing that I was still cancer free or in remission if you will.

I got even more excited when I started seeing hints of hair starting to push through my scalp again. I would stand in front of the mirror each morning just waiting to see the signs. As far as I was concerned it couldn’t grow back fast enough. The longer it grew, the more Jaco and I would celebrate it. It grew back a shade or two darker than it was before, but not much thicker I’m afraid. I thought this would be my ticket to ticker hair and I was bitterly disappointed. I quickly got over it though as I was so glad to still be alive and just be granted a second chance at life. I’ve always had impossibly straight hair, but was amazed when I realized that it was becoming curlier the longer it got. This of course gave the impression that I had thicker hair than I actually did have and of course I reveled in that. For the first time in my life I had hair that I could celebrate and grew it to almost half way down my back. That’s until I cut it! I looked at myself in the mirror and down at the floor in absolute dismay as I saw all my curls disappear and saw the usual straight hair reappear once again. In one cut, I lost my crowning glory and I was positively disgusted!

In the meantime I had no time to waste as I was planning birthday parties for the girls and life had to go on. At one point I decided to take some time out and went and visited my sister Karen in the UK. For the first time since being diagnosed and treated, this was finally my chance to take time out and be Sarah, not the cancer patient and breast cancer survivor. As usual I was received with open, loving arms and shown a wonderful time.

One very good thing that came from my mothers death was the fact that it brought Karen and I closer together again. We were always close growing up, but life happened and for a time we grew apart somewhat. As it was in those years I was almost too much for any of my family members to contend with, but now we had mended all the rifts and had a chance to bond and reconnect again. I think my mom was and still is smiling down from the heavens because she and her sister were always close, and she always wanted the same for Karen and I. As far back as I can remember, my mum always did her utmost to instill love and respect between Karen and I and her efforts paid off in kind in the end. I would like to think that she is taking great comfort in knowing that her death helped in healing relationships and cementing them forever.

While I was visiting in the UK, and talked, laughed and cried. We squeezed in as many of the sights and sounds of London that we could while I was there, and it was an incredibly therapeutic time for me.

For a time there, I got completely lost in being a breast cancer patient, but sometimes all one needs is to take a deep breath and a big step back to reevaluate your life and everything that it stands for. I lost myself and I went to the UK and spent time with my past…my sister, and found myself again.

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Taking in the sights of London Town

When I returned home I truly hit the ground running as I practically threw clothes from one suitcase into another and without spending even 4 hours back at home again, made for the airport to board yet another airplane bound for South Africa. I thrived on that excitement. I felt alive again, like I was finally starting to live my life to the fullest again.

This entry was posted on September 13, 2014.

A haunting adventure

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Outside Alanglade House in Pilgrims Rest. Little did I know what I was getting myself in for!

Just quickly going back to my recent holiday in South Africa, I’d like to tell you about a very interesting experience we had. Right after our wild antics with the baboons, we pushed on to Pilgrims Rest which is a very old mining town that was once one of the centers for the gold rush dating back to 1873. As a result this place is steeped in history. Upon arriving and visiting the information center, we soon caught wind of a Ghost tour that was heading out the next evening, and so we made our booking and waited in anticipation. The following afternoon, we set out with the tour guide and headed for a mansion called The Alanglade House. It was built in 1915 by a mine manager called Mr Barry, that stands in huge contrast with the rest of the town that in those days had houses built out of corrugated iron. Mr and Mrs Barry had just arrived from Britain. Both of them came from wealthy families and Mr Barry took one look at the corrugated iron houses and proclaimed that his wife was not going to live on one of those. Made out of brick and cement like many of todays houses, it took just 8 months to complete and was way ahead of it’s time in terms of technology and design. The mansion housed all the mining managers and their families until the last mine finally closed in 1972. It now stands as a museum and tourist attraction.

Upon entering the house, the tour guide informed us that three different families had occupied the house, but the first of course were the Barry’s. They were repeatedly struck with tragedy as their teenage daughter died of meningitis in the house. The ghostly presence and apparition of this girl has been encountered several times by visitors. Three of their sons also never reached old age, dying prematurely. The youngest son in particular was killed in the First World war. Certain objects have also been known to be manipulated or moved around. This house is like a maze, with 32 rooms all in all. We were told we could take as many photos as we pleased. Perhaps we’d even see something in one of them. Many people had! We started out downstairs which was uneventful, eventually making our way upstairs.  We entered a sun room which was one of Mrs Barry’s favorite places to sit and entertain her friends with afternoon tea. I was walking behind everyone else and upon making my way past the small round table, it felt as though a fridge had been opened up all around me. Walking a few steps further the temperature became normal again. Perhaps I watch too much television, but I have always been fascinated with the paranormal. It is believed by some that when a spirit tries to manifest itself, the air around it becomes very cold. However I try to remain neutral as I pride myself in not being a drama queen (well mostly) and to be honest, I’ve never had any personal experiences myself. I stopped dead in my tracks and to make sure that it wasn’t just my over active imagination, I looped around again and walked back through that spot. It was still freezing cold. I couldn’t move as it felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. I scampered out of the room so quickly and said nothing. I didn’t want to scare the girls. I’d tell them about it later.

After completing our tour of the upstairs room, we started down the stairs to prepare to leave. About four stairs down I was hit by a sudden, sharp smell of lavender. I didn’t mention to Sherry what I was smelling, but I asked her to come back up the stairs again. Arriving in the same spot as me, her eyes widened as she said that she’d never smelt this before but that other visitors had. We were standing level with one of the upstairs doorways entering into the room where the last Governess always slept. Sherry looked at me and said, ‘She loved all things lavender and never used any other scent.’

That was it…I was outta there!!

Sherry later told us that upon being absolutely sure that the house was empty and then locking up and walking away after tours, she’d hear the piano playing on it’s own and at other times hear children’s laughter coming from upstairs. Apparently the sounds of children laughing occurs mostly in the months of November and December, when the children attending boarding school would come home for the holidays.

Yes, a very interesting and unnerving experience indeed.

 

This entry was posted on September 11, 2014.

A bad hair day

My hair didn’t fall out as soon as I thought it would. I was into my 6th week of chemotherapy when the tell tale signs began. My scalp gradually started to itch more and more, and it actually became a bit sore to the touch at one point. Then I woke up one morning with lots of shoulder length, auburn colored hair lying on my pillow. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I was as devastated to lose my hair as many women are. My hair has never been my crowning glory. I had enough of it, but only just. It was very fine and fairly thin. My natural hair color was a sort of dead pan mousy brown, and once I reached late teenage hood a pattern started to gradually repeat itself. It was growing my hair to just past shoulder length until it started looking ratty and then cutting it into a bob and dying it some exotic form of dark reddish auburn. Anything to get rid of the mousy brown. I’ve always been a slightly restless spirit and change every now and again is part of who I am. Growing up, my bedroom was never the same for 2 months in a row. My mum would walk in and stop dead in her tracks, amazed at the transformation. Furniture would be shuffled around and new posters would be on the walls. I used to drive her crazy. I used up all my pocket money just on making changes to my immediate surroundings. I have calmed down somewhat since then but it still happens to a certain extent, just on a slightly smaller scale. Now its my husband that is often left scratching his head and wondering what the heck just happened.

It still wasn’t easy for me to see myself become totally bald though. It did catch up with me to a certain extent when, one day I decided to just go for broke. I cried as I stood in front of the mirror pulling my hair out in huge clumps as I threw it in the dustbin right before taking the electric shaver to my head to seal the deal. One always watches these tear jerking movies where you see the bald person who is the cancer patient going through treatment. It was just so surreal seeing myself that way too. I almost felt like I was the one in the movie and I was asking myself, ‘How the hell can this be happening to me?’

Wig

My wig.

Luckily a few weeks before I knew for sure that something was brewing up stairs, I decided that I wanted a wig. Finally, I’d have a head of hair to talk about! I went to a hair shop that specialized in wigs and I selected one that was auburn (as usual) and was made of real human hair. It was fairly long and definitely a lot thicker than I was used to. As a result the whole wig episode turned out to be a mistake. With the summers being extremely hot and humid here in the UAE, I sweated profusely under the wig and the tape that was supposed to hold everything in place didn’t exactly work as advertised. It would gradually slide further and further back on my head until I would have to do something about it, and if I was in public that wasn’t always so easy. Jaco was of the opinion that I’d made a ridiculous decision to buy the wig in the first place, and of course he was right. In the end I ditched the wig towards the end of my chemotherapy treatments and until my hair grew back, I used bandanas. I have nothing against wigs. I’ve seen many much more beautiful ones since, wishing that I’d gone for something a little more conservative, but in our climate it just wasn’t practical. I wasn’t worried however, because I was sure that when my hair grew back again once it was all over, that it would be quite a bit thicker than it was before. I’d heard stories of women who’d had thin totally nondescript heads of hair and after their chemotherapy was done, they grew back this gorgeous thick head of hair. Mmm…it didn’t quite turn out that way for me in the end.

This entry was posted on September 9, 2014.

Chemotherapy

Before starting chemotherapy, my doctor at the time insisted that I have a portocath inserted. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a metal ring with a tube that is attached to it that is inserted into your chest by making a small pocket just under the skin. The tube is then threaded to a major vein in the neck or other area. This makes it much easier for nurses to administer chemotherapy instead of having to battle to find a vein in the conventional manner each time. As a patient progresses through their chemo sessions, the harsh chemicals tend to damage the veins where they either shrink beyond use, or collapse or roll over. Once I was in theatre lying on the operating table, I realized to my horror that they weren’t going to put me out completely but just sedate me. I was lying there practically begging them to anesthetize me completely. I didn’t want to be even slightly aware that an incision was being made in my chest and a metal ring being inserted with a tube going who knows where. They eventually agreed to put me out and before I knew it, I was in recovery and was even strong enough after that to go for chemotherapy right away. With every tiny movement that I made with my arms and shoulders making me acutely aware that there was now a foreign object on board, we made our way to the chemotherapy suites.

On my way to chemo, I was very focused on walking in with a clear head. I didn’t want to talk myself into becoming nauseous, or assume that the medication was going to make me ill. So many patients suffer from anticipatory nausea because of the preconceived idea that chemotherapy makes everyone sick to the stomach full stop. I was determined to not fall into that trap. After being hooked up, Jaco and I watched as the red fluid inched it’s way down the tube. We held hands tightly as I closed my eyes and waited for it to be all over. Almost immediately I developed a metallic taste in my mouth, but three hours later the chemo was over and I was fine. I was dazed and tired from the anti-nausea medication, but wasn’t nauseous at all…just very eager to go home. I would have to repeat this process once a week for three weeks with a week break in between, for 6 months.

Goem in pram

The son I never had!

A few months after my mum passed away, I adopted a gorgeous male kitten through feline friends in Abu Dhabi. My husband named him Goemal. By the time I was diagnosed he was already just over a year old. After a while I ended up rechristening him chemo cat. There is definitive proof that animals can sense when a person is sick and in need of comfort. Perhaps they can smell the chemical changes that a persons body goes through when they’re not well. After each chemotherapy session, although I didn’t suffer from nausea (queasiness at the most) I was still flat on my back for a day or so afterwards. I would lie in bed and sleep the next day away, but I was never alone or lonely for a second. Jaco would lie vigil on the bed next to me keeping himself busy with something or other, and then there was chemo cat. He never left my side either. He would lie curled up next to me the entire time and would only move away to go and eat or drink and to relieve himself. He would then come straight back to me and at times he would lick my feet and pat my face gently with his paw. He was never a big purrer, but he must’ve instinctively known that I found purring very comforting and boy did he pack it out just for me. Neither one of my boys ever faltered for even a second in being there for me. This cat of mine has become like the son I never had. I adore him and he still 10 years later follows me everywhere and remains by my side. Right now as I type this, he’s sitting on the table in front of me next to my laptop. I’m truly blessed to have such a wonderful husband, children and feline!

This entry was posted on September 7, 2014.

The long road ahead

It was 5:00am and we were driving to what was at that stage, the only government hospital in the United Arab Emirates that was sophisticated enough to have a fully fledged Oncological department with chemotherapy suites attached, which meant driving 120km to and from treatments each time. For this first session, Jaco was driving us there as we had no idea how I’d react to the medication. We’d left the girls with friends who’d kindly volunteered to babysit them. There was no question in my mind that, that was the right thing to do. What was happening to me was bad enough, and I didn’t want to drag the girls through it with me. I wanted to protect them from all of this as much as possible. In the car on the way I also had a chance to really reflect which led me to the next age old question. Did this breast cancer just happen to me or did I do something to cause it? An Aunt who I was very close to once wisely said, ‘The sins of your youth catch up with you when you’re older.’

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My beloved mum…who was right about everything in the end whether I liked it or not!

Upon hearing that for the first time I did what many naïve young adults do, and that was roll my eyes to the ceiling. Now however it was all starting to make sense to me. I went somewhat off the rails in my late teens and early twenties, which were spent in reckless abandon. I got involved in a toxic relationship that went nuclear in the end, and in between all that I developed a taste for alcohol and cigarettes. I’m not sure if I could say even now whether the alcohol was an addiction…maybe a brief one, but I developed in to what many people call a dedicated smoker. Throughout my twenties and early thirties I’d tried countless times to quit, but I just couldn’t. It took being diagnosed with breast cancer to get me to finally kick the habit. Why is it that some of us humans always wait for the other shoe to drop before we finally learn our lessons? My mother always used to ask me why I chose to do things the difficult way and make my life so hard. I still cannot answer that question. The good news is that I have learnt through the years and bitter experience to simplify my life and not to complicate or clutter it. I think my mom’s shouting ‘Halleluiah’ from the heavens now!

There was also the other issue of fertility treatment that I had undergone years before together with the excess estrogen that came along with it. Just after Jaco and I got married we decided we wanted to start a family pretty much right away. Almost a year later when nothing had happened, we visited a doctor to see if there was a problem somewhere. The problem of course lay with me and the fact that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome and was not ovulating properly. This meant treating it first with medication and then waiting again for a while to see if I couldn’t fall pregnant on my own. I didn’t and so it was fertility treatment that was on the menu. I proved luckier than most when I fell pregnant with Rochelle on only the second cycle of treatment. After doing so much research for my breast cancer book, I have consequently learnt that fertility treatment can play a role in developing breast cancer, as hormone receptor positive breast cancer like mine feeds off excess estrogen. Like many cancers, breast cancer doesn’t happen over night. It can take up to a decade to develop the disease with all these carcinogens that one comes into contact with, and that can have a residual effect on the body.

Then there was the time when I decided to take on the project of housepainter. Yes, I took it upon myself to tackle the exterior appearance of our abode. It didn’t involve painting the actual house, just the trimmings like the gutters, window frames, security gates and what have you. This meant coming into contact with lead laden paint and thinners to clean my hands with day in and day out for weeks on end. I should’ve worn gloves of course, but I just couldn’t have been bothered at the time. Stupid and thoughtless you say? Yes it was!  All those things may have added up to create just the right recipe for things to go wrong and for genetic damage to take place, but I will never know for sure. I cannot beat myself up for something that I have no definitive proof of. All I could do was take it all and use it to serve as lessons for my own daughters.

Upon arriving at the hospital I had to consult with my doctor first where blood had to be taken to check my white blood cell counts, and before chemotherapy could even start, my doc had insisted that they insert a portocath!? I was blindsided by that. I thought they were just going to use my veins, and now they want to go and shove a metal ring in my chest? What next!

 

This entry was posted on September 5, 2014.

Good news for a change

blog03When the phone rang I just knew that it was the doctor. My stomach started doing somersaults, I could barely swallow because my mouth and throat were so dry while my hand shook as it hovered over the phone. I was terrified to pick it up…terrified of what I might hear. Picking up I couldn’t breathe…until the doc said ‘All lymph nodes have tested negative…your prognosis is very good.’

Jaco could tell by the look on my face that the news was of the best kind. When I put the phone down I was crying and laughing at the same time. I finally felt the black cloud that had been hovering over my head for the past two weeks lift and move away. The heaviness on my chest disappeared and I felt a relief and elation that I still today cannot put words to. The girls came running over to me to ask what was wrong because of my tears. I crouched down and for the first time in a week I took all three of them in my arms and hugged them for all I was worth despite how sore it was saying, ‘It’s okay girls, mommy’s just crying because she’s so happy.’

Of course as so often happens in situations like this, the relief and happiness that I felt was somewhat overshadowed because in the recesses of my mind was lurking the fact that my treatment was far from over. I still had to be referred to an Oncologist who was yet to review my case and determine what sort of treatment I would have to follow next, if any.

The following week sitting in the Oncologists office, I was not a happy girl to find out that I would have to do 6 months of adjuvant chemotherapy. To top that off, because my breast cancer had tested hormone receptor positive I’d also have to start taking Tamoxifen and remain on it indefinitely after the chemotherapy had finished.

I was very happy when my sister, Karen arrived the following day. I was somewhat apprehensive about how she’d react to seeing her sister with a lob sided chest, but she didn’t react at all, she just embraced me. The next day I was due to have my stitches removed and I was very excited about that. Although the hospital had bandaged me up in a clever way that made me look as though I still had a breast on the left side, I still couldn’t help feeling a little self conscious and vulnerable in public. I was no longer feeling so tender and sore at the op site anymore and was ready to go and look at prosthesis’.  We visited a shop which had an amazing variety of not just prosthesis’ but also bras and swimwear. Still feeling quite a bit of stiffness in my arm and shoulder, Karen was an amazing help. She never batted an eyelid when she saw my scar for the first time, but was just the most incredible help and support, and assisted me in ensuring that I decided on the correct size. I also bought a swimming costume that is still one of my favorites today. Wearing the prosthesis made such a huge difference as all my self confidence returned almost immediately. Having Karen there was a life saver to me. Living in a foreign country with no immediate support system is very hard, and she intrinsically knew that and dropped everything that she was busy with 8000km away just to be with me. I would’ve done exactly the same for her, but I still found it really touching. The photo that you see on this particular page was taken while she was here that time, not long after my surgery. Seeing her leave 10 days later was very difficult as I cried in the car all the way home from the airport, but I of course knew that she had her family and responsibilities to get back to. I was just so grateful that she’d been to see me.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on the fact that she was gone and that the house felt so empty, as my chemotherapy was due to start just 2 days later.

This entry was posted on September 3, 2014.

Post surgery

 

6 hours later I had just emerged from the anesthetic in recovery when I heard the doctors voice saying to me, ‘I’m so sorry but we had to take the whole breast, a lumpectomy wasn’t an option.’

There is nothing in the world that can possibly prepare a woman for hearing those words. I was absolutely devastated and coupled with the anesthetic that made me even more emotional I started sobbing like a baby, and the tears kept on coming as they were wheeling me back to my room. Not long after that the surgeon came to see me and explained that when they went in, they had discovered two additional lumps. Although they were smaller than the one they had detected originally, in order to get clear margins they had to remove most of the breast tissue including a thin layer of muscle off my chest wall. They had also removed 15 lymph nodes which had been sent off to the lab for testing. Waiting a week for those results would be unbearable.

Once the doctor had left I finally had the chance to really process what was happening to me, and of course the first question I asked myself was the age old one, ‘Why me?’ Was there a reason for me to get this disease or was it just a brutal and random blow from a cruel universe that seemed to be turning against me. I felt this overwhelming anger towards my body for doing this to me. It felt almost like an out of body experience where I no longer knew and trusted my body. It had become a stranger to me and I no longer trusted it to look after me anymore. I was becoming profoundly depressed and was sinking into a deep dark pit of despair that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to claw my way out of.

Not long after, a nurse who also happened to be South African came into my room, and sitting on the side of my bed and taking my hand in hers, she told me her story. It was a story that would transform my despair into hope…hope that I still have today. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the doctors had given her 6 months to live. The cancer had metastasized to most of her major organs including many of her bones. When she got home, she shut herself up in her room, closed the curtains, curled up in bed and stayed there for days- close to a week. No matter how much family and friends knocked on the door, she wouldn’t respond. She started to lose weight and all she did was cry until she fell asleep. Upon waking the process would repeat itself again. Then one morning she woke up and it was as if she had experienced a mind shift in the middle of the night…as if a light switch had been flipped on. She got up, opened the curtains and windows wide and, staring out the window decided that she wasn’t going to give in to this disease. She was prepared to give everything and do anything it took to defeat it. She sat down at her desk and made a bucket list of all the things she was determined she was going to get done before her life was even close to ending. Then it was what she said to me next that really got my attention, which was ‘That was 11 years ago.’blog01

When she left my room my usual optimism started to kick in again and drying the tears, I had a smile on my face. 4 days later I returned home only to face yet more emotional and psychological obstacles. We had still not received the results for the lymph node testing and had absolutely no idea what my long term prognosis was going to be. What if my prognosis was poor? What if I never got to see my three little girls grow up, build careers for themselves, get married and have children? I would’ve given absolutely anything at that point to have some sort of guarantee that I would eventually have the privilege of holding my first grandchild in my arms. It was another 4 days until we heard what the results of the tests were and although the nurse that had visited me had by and large put me back on track again emotionally, I was still swinging like a wild pendulum between optimism and despair born of outright fear. In those 4 days before we got the phone call, I also couldn’t bear to hug my children or even go near them. I couldn’t stand the prospect that I may not get to spend much longer with them. They were still so small. What were they going to do without their mommy? Jaco had to take leave from work and look after them while I lay in bed day and night, holding my own private pity party.

This entry was posted on September 1, 2014.