In 2014, a giant of a man named Henk van der Berg was diagnosed with melanoma cancer and given only six months to live.
However, his zest for life pushed him to fight the disease and ignited inspiration amongst a group of expats that led to a R30, 000-donation being presented to Khanya Hospice in Umkomaas who’s Nursing staff and CEO were phenomenal, (angels) , and a R6, 000-donation to Cycling for Mobility, this month.
Born on 8 July 1969, John Henry (Henk) van der Berg lived life on a different level to most… At 1.97m tall, with 120kg of bulk and determination, he decimated competition whether as a South African Springbok athlete breaking records in shotput and discus, or on the rugby field as a junior provincial lock and scrumhalf.
He faced every challenge head-on yet, behind this forceful exterior was a shy and gentle man who was generous, loved the Lord with all his heart, and wouldn’t hesitate to help somebody in need.
One of his proudest moments in life, other than the birth of his two daughters, Charlize and Nastasia, was when he received his Degree in Safety Management, which enabled him to work in the Middle East for just over a decade, thereby supporting his family through tough times back in South Africa.
Henk grew up in Wakkerstroom and Volksrus, but spent much of his adult life in Umkomaas, Amanzimtoti and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Fighting for Life
In June 2014, while working in Dubai (UAE), Henk was diagnosed with malignant melanoma (cancer). Doctors estimated he had six months to live, saying he would be lucky to see Christmas that year. Through sheer determination and faith, Henk set off on a survival journey that saw him celebrate not one but three Christmases with beloved friends and family!
During his treatment over the course of three years, Henk still worked and exercised almost daily, even running a few 3km and 5km desert races with friends in Dubai, keeping his and others’ hopes alive to beat the dreaded ‘Big C’.
Half For Henk
Henk inspired a group of expats (from Australia, the UK, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, South Africa and Jordan) living in Dubai to start exercising in support of his battle against cancer. Their first support-event was a half marathon in Dubai, and the group known as ‘Half-For-Henk was borne!
“Henk van der Berg is one of the biggest men you’ll ever meet – in all senses of the word. The size of his hands is easily outmatched by the size of his heart. Henk is a good friend to so many people and this is a chance for us to say thanks and help him. Ever the one to keep on being positive, Henk’s fighting spirit is what has inspired this group.” (Comment from Half for Henk Facebook Group Page)
The Battle Lost but the Fight Continues
Unfortunately, towards the end of 2016, the cancer suddenly spread throughout his body, and on 26 April 2017, Henk’s body succumbed to the disease. He is survived by his daughters Charlize and Nastasia, his grandson, Landon, and his wife, Natasha.
“Henk was a force to be reckoned with, but at the same time, the kindest person who, despite his massive size and strength, loved to just sit back peacefully and watch the world. He loved life and he loved God,” said Henk’s wife, Natasha. “It was ironic that the last few years of Henk’s life was a constant was battle for life… As a health and safety manager, it was his job to keep others alive on their work sites, and ensure that they returned home safely to their families. He did this all the while battling for his own life, fighting cancer daily, to make it home to his family!”
In Memory of Henk – R30,000 to Khanya Hospice
In December 2016, Simon Wood, an Australian living in Dubai, asked for permission to run Marathon Des Sables (MDS) in memory of Henk. MDS is a monster of a race, dubbed the toughest land race in the world, covering 250km through the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa. Simon, who had already completed six full-distance and 14 half-Ironman events, set off on MDS in April this year.
Successfully completing the self-sustaining desert race, Simon also used his MDS challenge as a fundraiser in Henk’s memory, and under the hashtag: #HenkStrength.
“Coming from a small country town in Western Australia, my parents taught me to work hard and gave me many opportunities to do what I love. For this I’m forever grateful,” said Simon. “In 2015, I moved to Dubai and was fortunate to meet some new mates – one of these stood out from the crowd: Henk van der Berg. He loved life and everyone he surrounded himself with. I’m very privileged to have met him and wish we could have shared more moments.”
“I recognised a synergy between my own personal journey and Henk, with his belief, being mentally strong and discipline to fighting an awful disease. Thus, I reached out to his wife, Natasha, and asked if I could dedicate running the MDS in honour of Henk, and in the process raise funds for a cause that meant something and would help future people in similar situations.”
Simon’s efforts raised R36,000! Of this, R6,000 was donated to Cycling for Mobility (a charitable organisation in South Africa that raises money to provide those in need with wheelchairs) and R30,000 was presented to Khanya Hospice.
“Henk’s wife mentioned the Khanya Hospice helped care for Henk in his last few painful weeks fighting to the end,” said Simon. “Rural Hospices rely on volunteers and donations so I asked people to dig deep and donate in the memory of Henk. People may not know Henk, but most people know someone who has battled with the Big C!”
About Khanya Hospice’s Support
During Henk’s last few weeks and his painful deterioration due to the spread of the cancer, Khanya Hospice were invaluable in the support and assistance they offered to Henk and his family. Their caring assistance included not only providing medical help, nursing care, equipment and medication, but also emotional support without which Henk and his family would have been lost!
“Hospice’s Sister Veronica and CEO, Neil McDonald were constantly available and provided incredible support!” said Natasha, Henk’s wife. “We are so grateful to the Khanya Hospice team that helped so much. We could not have gotten through this without them. And while we are still mourning the loss of this giant of a man, it’s amazing to see how Henk inspired friends from across the globe to be active, positive, and support both Khanya Hospice and Cycling for Mobility!” We do encourage people, families, businesses and corporates to continue supporting Khanya Hospice and the great work that they are doing. God Bless you all.