One of our objectives at Project Cancer Champions is to share success stories of those who have conquered cancer – shared to show you that nothing is impossible.
And that cancer certainly can be conquered through lifestyle change.
I hope these success stories help you to find the inspiration ( and further insight), to go on to become a Cancer Champion.
A Cancer Champion shares her story:
Live life with knowledge, understanding and apply wisdom
First, the cold hard facts: The Reality
Diagnosis – Stage 4 breast cancer metastasized into Stage 4 lymph cancer, Stage 4 bone cancer. Cancer count – 840.Treatment – None suggested. Cancer was too far into the late stages. Body was covered with approximately 87 per cent of cancer. Treatment was not advisable.
I will never forget the night I lay in the bath gazing at my legs. They were covered in bruises. I counted 42 bruises. They weren’t there the week before; I know that for sure, because I had shaved. Were they there yesterday? I don’t know. I couldn’t fathom how I had got them. Then a dreaded sinking feeling settled in my stomach… this was not good, I knew it, I could feel it. I got out of the bath and tried my best to act as normal as possible around my family. I didn’t say anything. What was the point of raising alarm? It might be nothing. The next morning I went to the laboratory for a blood test. I still hadn’t told anyone. I must say, I did feel quite positive when I walked out of the lab. I kind of had a sense that I had overreacted, and in time would remember bumping myself to have got the bruises. I will never forget the next morning. It was 22 June and we were having a busy day at work. The phone call came through… my blood tests showed up positive for leukemia. I was devastated. I immediately got the tests faxed to my doctor, who insisted I come in pronto. The funniest thing was that it almost didn’t seem real. Me of all people to get cancer…not possible. I had overcome so much in the past five years, there was no way the universe could dish out this to me… I was convinced the lab had made a mistake.
My doctor ran some more tests. He was very concerned about my low blood results, my hemoglobin was too low, but my platelets were even lower and dropping fast. My body was not making platelets, but he was convinced it wasn’t cancer. He put me on a course of steroids for two weeks. He was convinced it would solve the problem. I, of course, was thrilled to hear that it wasn’t cancer… I think I was hoping so much that it wasn’t that I hung onto his words. It’s amazing how strong the mind can be: you can actually convince yourself that the diagnosis is wrong and play dumb to the fact that you are dying. I was going downhill fast. My blood was getting worse and I was looking terrible. I had asked the doctor to have another look at my breast. A year prior to this I had had a lump in my left breast that grew rapidly. I had three mammograms and two syringe biopsies and all came back negative. My doctor put it down to a bad case of mastitis. The doctor was adamant that it had nothing to do with my breast. One of the scariest things to face in the beginning of this journey was the fact that I didn’t have medical aid. So any treatment needed would have to be done in a government hospital. That thought alone was enough to give me nightmares. Our government hospitals are far from winning any awards, in fact, it’s kind of a toss-up…do I try do this myself or risk going to a government facility? I had no choice but to go to a government hospital. I was admitted into King Edward Hospital. The doctor who treated me was an angel sent from heaven, and I am forever indebted to her. She was amazing. I won’t go into describing the rest of the hospital… it was a good thing that I was semi-awake most of the time… it’s a part of this story that I try not to remember. I don’t think anyone should see or endure what I did in that hospital.
After a lot of tests, the results were in… Stage 4 breast cancer metastasized into Stage 4 lymph cancer and Stage 4 bone cancer… basically… there was no hope, I was on my death bed. They sent me home to be with my family. They managed to get me a bed at Albert Luthuli… but that was, of course, if I made it… I had 10 days to get through…with no medication… only cancer multiplying at a record rate, taking over my body. In those 10 days I deteriorated drastically, my hemoglobin had dropped to 3.2, my platelets were 1. I didn’t have enough blood in my body. My heart rate was accelerated trying to pump little blood around as fast as possible to get oxygen to my organs. I had started with internal bleeding; I had no clotting agents in my blood. I was so weak that I could barely get up. Friends were coming in… leaving in tears… I think actually they were paying their last respects but didn’t tell me, of course… thank goodness!
From the time that I was admitted to King Edward, the town folk were amazing. My neighbor Michelle was like a guardian angel. She put a roster together for cooked meals, friends put rosters together for school lifts, and it was amazing. From July until November, friends, family and neighbours provided school and sports lifts for my children, food and meals daily for my family and even lifts to visit me in hospital. Not once was I alone during visiting hours in hospital, they came with smiles and laughter and food. I am truly blessed. During my time at home waiting to go to Albert Luthuli, I was introduced by a friend to Rob, who helped me tremendously on my survival path. In fact, I’m convinced and know that it’s because of his Game Plan Method that I have recovered. Rob cut straight to the point and said he could help me conquer cancer… but only if I myself chose to conquer it! Of course, I jumped at the idea… well, I probably raised my arms, because jumping was a little too strenuous… I remember the day so well… the first day we met… I was determined not to look sick, I was so scared that he would take one look at me and walk away thinking I was a goner! But he didn’t; instead he sat chatting with me. By the end of our first meeting he had given me a reality check and just ‘one thing’ to think about and work on… He told me I had to replace the word HOPE with a GAME PLAN, and he would share with me a tool kit to just do it! A few days later, the beginning of August, I collapsed on the verge of going into cardiac arrest and having internal bleeding. This was the night before being admitted into Albert Luthuli… talk about God never being late… my word… He timed it perfectly, gave me just enough time to make it there! It was a terribly traumatic morning, my wonderful man and daughter tried relentlessly to lift me to get me in the car, but every time they lifted I passed out, my oxygen kept cutting out. Eventually, my daughter’s boyfriend came through and managed to carry me (his 6ft frame came in handy). That trip to the hospital was quite an experience. I slept the whole way, but didn’t realize I was in the car. I thought I was in a meadow, with the sun warming my body. I was jolted back to reality when my daughter and my man were trying to get me out the car and into a wheelchair. My daughter raced me through that hospital to the ward… she was amazing, never fretted, kept her cool… I am sure she had a little cry behind the curtain though. Once I was stabilized, the doctors came to talk to me. Basically, the cancer was too far gone. Chemotherapy was not an option because I had internal bleeding. The blood bank would not give me blood due to the fact that I was not going to make it. The doctors explained that I would slip into a coma in a few days and gradually my body would close down… I remember sitting up in bed, smoothing out the creases in the blanket while the doctors spoke. I couldn’t look at them. I didn’t want to see the lack of hope in their eyes, and I could hear it in their voices. One doctor placed his hand on my shoulder, “I’m sorry”. And they all walked away. I watched them leave. I couldn’t take my eyes off their backs, those white coats, they were walking away, and I couldn’t do anything. The nurse standing at the door came over and hugged me. They all knew. The doctors had told them before they told me. That really pissed me off. It was my life, and they felt the need to discuss it with someone else first. Then I got really angry! I asked the nurse to help me into the wheelchair. I needed to find those doctors and confront them. I found one of the doctors in the men’s ward. The nurse pushed me up to him and I shouted… “Excuse me, Doctor,” he turned around and then I let rip. “Did you wake up this morning with a personal note from God saying that I will die this week? How dare you tell me I’m dying, I know THAT! Why aren’t you giving me medicine? Am I still breathing… because it feels like breathing to me, and until the day I stop breathing, you give me medicine.”
The doctor was not impressed and asked me to leave… which I did. About 20 minutes later he came to my bed and agreed to give me chemo. He didn’t think it would work; didn’t even know if my body could handle it; I might not be around to see the next day. The blood bank still refused to give me blood. The doctors wanted to do another breast biopsy… I mean why not…? I’m probably not going to make it, so let’s go out with a bang.
My neighbour was amazing with her support. When she heard about the blood bank, she sent out messages to everyone. How she managed to organize it, I don’t know, but people from my town, their families, and friends from all over were donating blood for me. It was amazing. That made me realize how much I am loved. The same day that the doctors agreed to give me chemo, they moved me to a single room… actually it’s the room behind the nurses’ station… the one that you don’t usually come out of! That night they hooked me up and gave me chemo. My family came to see me that night. There was an unspoken uneasiness, not knowing what would be in store for the next morning. I made sure I had a smile on my face. When everyone left, only then did I cry. I didn’t sleep that night. My mother, bless her, had her shoes and clothes laid out ready, in case the dreaded call came. The next morning… I was still breathing. In fact, I felt pretty good. My platelets had increased to 80… Wow… this was amazing for me. The docs said I would probably be in hospital for at least a year and have about 18 sessions of chemo… so I decided to use my time effectively and focus on the Game Plan Rob had shared with me. The key point was BALANCE; I had to start working on myself, my self-value. I had to restore balance in my life. Rob would visit me in the hospital and spend about two hours with me, going over my Game Plan to conquer cancer. I remember feeling exhausted afterwards, my energy levels were so low. But I found that the more I worked according to the plan Rob had helped me with, the more I was prompted to sort out the negative emotional constraints that I had crammed my life full of, and the quicker I seemed to be getting better. Positivity (Hope) only comes when one has a Game Plan to conquer, and I felt I was now on the right path. Basically Rob was able to show me the areas of my life that I had hidden and covered up, not wanting to face. Rob shared with me the cause and the trigger of my cancer. I learnt stuff that I just did not know before. I learnt how I had unwittingly crammed my life with the wrong stuff, thus creating imbalances. I learnt that cancer was merely the messenger. I had to sort out a long, long list of resentments. I learnt how to love myself again. I was so eager to get better and get back home that I worked on myself relentlessly. It’s not easy though. Remember, it took a long time for my body to get into this bad state; it was going to take hard work to reverse it. Many times I went off track and Rob would guide me back in the right direction… I called him ‘my guru’ – my life coach – my game changer. The healing had begun. On 31 August, the doctor said I could go home for a weekend, which became a week; I was doing so well, I had two sessions of chemo. I was so nervous when I got home, I actually fretted a bit, what if my bloods drop, what if I get an infection, and then Rob arrived… I had no time to fret; he gave me another step to work on in my Game Plan.
Rob was also teaching me to recognize areas in my life that were blocking my potential. I used Rob’s Game Plan Method, my faith in God…which, believe you me, when you are in a room on your own 20 hours a day, you need someone to talk to… I argued a lot with God in the beginning, and then we became best friends. He comforted me in the early hours of the morning, in the deep of the night when no one was around. I learnt to hand my fears over to Him… if you don’t know God; I suggest you get to know Him… He is awesome, and medicine, family and friend support and a never-give-up resolve to overcome this dread disease. From September to 24 October, I was at home more and more often. I went in weekly for blood transfusions and every three weeks for chemo. It was an amazing accomplishment when I got to the stage that I could receive chemo in the clinic, instead of having to be booked into hospital. The last time I stayed in hospital was 24 October. I remember lying in bed, thinking… I am so tired of my blood going up and down and having to come in and out of hospital. I was at my end with needle pricks; in fact, I remember one nurse asking me why I always sit on one hand while they are shoving yet another needle in my arm. I just smiled as she wouldn’t have liked my response. I used to sit on my free hand to stop myself from slapping the nurse, not out of anger but out of sheer pain; when your veins have collapsed and the nurse pokes you five times just to get an IV up and then another three times to try to get blood, it’s no joke! I still possess the dark scars on my arms from the multitude of needle pricks. When I walked out of hospital that day, I never wanted to return. So far, I never have, praise God; I hope I never have to. This has not been an easy path. It was damn hard to live; it was hard to change; it was hard to practice the new stuff that Rob was teaching me, and I’m sure he must have been very frustrated at times. There are times when I lose focus and my body reacts, I pick up the phone and Rob puts my focus back on track, thus bringing my life back into balance. I think it’s important to have a mentor in life, someone who can keep you focused and nudge you into gear when it’s needed. Rob always said, “YOU have got to want to live.” I think that’s the first big question you need to ask yourself; how far you are willing to go, to conquer. I was not prepared to give up, I want to live, I want to live a good life, and I want to live a good life for a very long time!