Where do I begin! From day one, she never pitied me, she protected me from myself and others. She thought ahead to ensure my comfort. It warms my heart thinking of how she cared for me during the most difficult time of my life. I now get the saying, God couldn’t be everywhere that’s why he created mothers.
Almost immediately after my diagnosis my mom brought me back to her house and began caring for me. She was with me at my first Oncology appointment (and every one after that), she went with me for all my scans, blood-tests, operations, all my chemotherapy and some of my radiation sessions (because there was another guardian angel who began standing in for her, more about that in a bit…).There was never a gloomy moment…which makes me smile now.
Before I began chemotherapy, my oncologist told me my hair would begin to fall out two weeks after my first sitting. So my mom and I decided we would plan ahead…and decided to start cutting my hair shorter in preparation of this dreadful side-effect (she continued to trim my hair after treatment and still does ). I had always had shoulder length hair or longer. So it was a lot of fun for my mom and I to play around with shorter hairstyles. Two weeks after chemo my hair started falling out, so we went shorter…until we got to the point a boys cut …luckily, short hair was the fashion in 2013.
Once my hair became too thin, I decided to get some scarves, well lots of scarves and my mother was right next to me to choose them. I read somewhere that “you should make yourself look good on the outside to feel better on the inside”, and this is exactly what I tried to do (with my mom at my side, looking good).
Usually the day before chemotherapy I would decide what I would be taking along to snack on (because I would be there for at least half a day, sometimes longer). My mom and I would then go to the shops and stock up. On the day we would both dress up, yes for chemotherapy and once there we would chat to others, take photos (which my mom wasn’t that good at-which made us laugh even more). It’s weird, but I never had a miserable time while actually receiving chemotherapy. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of horrid drugs passing through my veins and losing my hair made me extremely sad, but I had my mom there and we had fun…we grew closer.
I would receive chemotherapy on a Wednesday, then by Monday the following week I would need to get Neupogen injections to increase the white blood cells in my body in order for my body to re-build itself to withstand the next round of chemotherapy the following Wednesday. These injections would cause horrible bone ache as my bone marrow rapidly produced more white-blood cells. By the fourth injection (on the Thursday) the body aches would be bearable, so my mom and I would go shopping and have lunch somewhere. This was good for me to get out of the house as well.
Very early on in my cancer journey I had the question “what is my purpose on earth”? I believed that everyone has a purpose on earth and I needed to find out what mine was. I could not continue to go through my life (especially if I made it through cancer) being unhappy and not living my true life.
My uncle who is an ordained Pastor now, recommended the book “A purpose-driven life” by Rick Warren. The author wrote about different situations in life and what the purpose of it could be. It got me thinking about my life so much so, that I got to a point where I thought I should revamp my whole life. I wanted to change jobs, stop doing my PhD, and basically change everything as fast as possible so that I could find what I was truly supposed to be doing. At this point I realised I needed to speak to someone, and started seeing a psychologist. Through counselling I realised what I needed to change and what I needed to do better.
We often think God does not listen to us, or has forgotten us, but when we speak to Him, He does answer. And it might not always be the easy solution we are hoping for, it might be that we would need to first endure hardship to understand what we need to do and how we need to change to live a more fulfilling life and appreciate everything that He gives us, the good and the bad. So in order for me to have a second chance at life, love and happiness, I had to endure suffering and pain. But I do appreciate life so much more and I understand that God does not want to forsake me, but to prosper me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11
I have such amazing friends, and this became even more evident while I was going through my treatment. My closest friends, didn’t for a second treat me any differently or show pity towards me. They treated me like the old- Genevieve (with shorter hair). My friends checked up on me regularly, sent texts, brought goodie bags (which consisted of things I didn’t even know I would need-but they did- being researchers themselves). On the days when I felt better, they would pick me up at home and take me for a drive. I always knew that my friends were my family, which was confirmed during this time. So now I would like to say to all my friends and family “Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for me”.
And then, there was this old friend…
It’s so strange how the life works out, yes I am more philosophical now (more than I used to be). I always believed I was right where I needed to be at a given point in time, even the most difficult times. And now more than ever, I can look back and say I was right where I needed to be. I needed to endure suffering to understand joy and to break free from all the unhealthy people in my life and appreciate all the amazing people in my life.
So…In October 2013, I received a Facebook message from a primary school friend, who was living in Johannesburg and whom I haven’t spoken to in years. His name, Lindsay Ronnie. The message went along the lines of “how is life treating you”. My response was very blunt “crap, I was actually recently diagnosed with Cancer”. And instead of running for the hills, he asked more questions and was very sympathetic to my situation. He too had recently experienced some hardships, one of which was his dad suffering a major stroke early in 2013. We then continued chatting and he accompanied me virtually to all of my chemotherapy sessions and was a source of comfort and laughter. Having this connection at a distance, made it easier at times to express how crappy I was really feeling about life, without having to look the person in the eye. This wasn’t always possible with my face-to-face friends and family, because I didn’t want to see the pity in their eyes.
In December 2013, Lindsay came to Cape Town to visit his family and came around to say hi to me (I was still busy with chemotherapy at the time). Because things hadn’t been working out for him in Johannesburg (and I guess to my favour), he decided to move back to Cape Town at the end of January 2014. All the while we stayed in touch. When I finally finished my chemotherapy we met up again, and again and again…some of our dates included him taking me for my radiation sittings. We haven’t left each other’s side since. While our relationship started shrouded in a not-so-ideal situation, we have also experienced a lot of amazing things together over the last two years.
And on the 23rd of September 2015, he took me on a 7 hour hike up Constantia Nek (Yes! 7 hours) to not only see the dams situated at the top (as I have always wanted to see them) but also to ask me to be his wife.
Lindsay comes from a wonderful family that have accepted me from day 1, with scarves and all. I realised that my past experiences with love have made me more appreciative of what I have found in Lindsay as well as being so warmly accepted by his family.
Dread disease cover
I have to mention something around this. While I was completing my Honours degree (2005) my sister was working as an insurance broker. She convinced me to take life cover, dread disease cover and a few other benefits. I never thought I would need dread disease cover, especially as there aren’t any dread diseases in my family. But looking back I am so glad I did. The cover that I was paid out assisted me in making a fresh start after completing my treatment. It also allowed me to be off from work for the duration of my treatment and to not be concerned about my day-to-day expenses. So now I advocate to all young adults to ensure that they have dread disease cover.
My Second Chance
So to end off, let me try to summarise my life now. Firstly, let me say that once I got the all clear, it didn’t magically return me to Genevieve before cancer. I now had to live knowing that I had cancer, and it could come back at any time. This was a very difficult realisation. For example, I was an emotional mess for two weeks before my first 3-month check-up. I didn’t realise that the way I was feeling was related to my upcoming appointment until Lindsay pointed the connection out to me. Now, unlike before my diagnosis, whenever I have any sign of any illness, I immediately think about how it could relate to cancer or relapse.
I was also a very safe person before my diagnosis. I wasn’t keen on trying new things or taking risks. This has since changed. For example, I had my driver’s license for 3 years and I never drove. I now drive…Life is too short to walk!
While I was undergoing treatment I started making plans to do things and experience new things. I wanted to celebrate life and the fact that I made it through all of it! The first thing I did, was book a holiday for myself and my parents! I wanted to do something for them to say thank you for all they did for me.
Next, I wanted to spend some time with my girlfriends, the ones who made time for me while I was undergoing treatment. So I planned a girl’s day, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite having a very dry and painful throat as a result of my radiation treatment.
I have continued to live life and do what I want to and not only focus on work and my studies (I guess that’s why I still haven’t submitted my PhD-but planning to complete soonest). I believe you can’t have certain experiences in life and come out unchanged or unmoved. We endure hardships because we need to change, in order to live our lives the way we are meant to. My only regret is that I had to experience a life-threatening illness before I started truly living.
Thanks for reading my story.