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His Diagnosis Changed Our Lives

Anjolien Brink, shares how both her and her husband, Stephan’s lives changed through his skin cancer diagnosis and how they coped at the time:

We were driving in the car one day and I noticed a small sore on the side of Stefan’s nose. I asked him if he could remember hurting himself and he could not think of any reason for the sore. It was very small, but bleeding, and being a nurse with an oncology background and also working for CANSA, I was not happy about the sore.

For a few days I kept on observing the area and then made an appointment for him at the GP as I was sure it was skin cancer. Twice the doctors informed us that it was not skin cancer and my husband even called me paranoid, but I kept on disagreeing.

The third doctor was a plastic surgeon and immediately confirmed what I suspected. Stephan went into surgery three days later and when the doctor came out he said that Stefan would not be happy with the results. It was then that I realized the journey may not be as easy as I expected and hoped for. They had to remove most of the nose on the side and then created a “ flap” with his cheek for skin and blood circulation.

I had to try and explain this to my husband very carefully, as he mentioned before the surgery that he was not willing to go through with this operation if they were going to disfigure him. I also had to phone my mother and had to ask her to prepare our two young children and to tell them that everything would be okay.

All I could think of was that cancer must not take my husband away from me and our two children. I believed that God would help us with the good news that the cancer had been successfully surgically removed, and that Stephan would recover. Also the reconstruction surgery six months later would be a huge success.

My whole family was involved and supported with prayers. I did the wound care and my children assisted so that they could feel part of his recovery and see that he was getting better. We had numerous “counselling” sessions where we discussed the reconstruction and future. It made me more aware that cancer does not walk past you even if you are working for CANSA, or you are a young or healthy individual. It made all of us more aware of changes in our bodies, especially sores that didn’t want to heal and made us appreciate life and our love for each other.

Would you say the age-old “take it one day at a time” approach is the way to go? Did you manage to find a way of doing that? What were your main coping mechanisms?

We were just living in the moment, caring for him on a day to day basis, but we were also focussed on the six month goal for reconstruction surgery. We basically focussed on our future, staying positive and believing that God had healed him and that we no longer had to accommodate cancer in our lives.

I relied on my nursing and oncology background, so that I could take care of him myself and do the wound care, but I also believe that each cancer patient has to have a good solid support system around them. My support came from my husband, my children, mother, twin sister (also oncology nurse) and older sister. My husband told me that it would be okay when I had a difficult day, and my twin sister also came and gave advice and support with the wound care. My mother and older sister were there to look after our children when we had to go to the doctor, and also kept us positive and prayed for us.

How did it change your view of the future, both as an individual but also as a couple?

We are all very aware of changes in our bodies, we never leave any changes too long without consulting a doctor. My children are even educating other children at their schools and telling them about prevention and early detection. They have been doing this for the past five years and are assisting at various CANSA projects as volunteers.

We know how to try and live a balanced lifestyle to lower our risk of cancer and we make sure that we go for screening tests. My husband is also now working at CANSA and is educating people to be Sunsmart and to use sunscreen and about the importance of lowering risk for skin cancer.

* Published with Anjolien and Stephan’s permission

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