Maryke Van der Walt – Cancer Stories of Hope #CANSA90
What is your current cancer diagnosis?
How long have you been living with that cancer?
Since February 2021.
How does living with cancer affect you in general in your day-to-day living?
Hearing the news, “You have cancer,” is not something that anyone would choose for themselves. My cancer is very rare. It is a cancer that actually occurs in children, a bone cancer. I am approximately case nr 41 in SA who got it as an adult, where it originated in my kidney. They were able to remove the tumour together with my right kidney. The tumour weighed 5kgs! My treatment includes chemo every 2nd week for 14 rounds and 5 weeks of radiation together with the chemo. It adds up to about 6 months. My blood counts were very low a few weeks ago. So I got a blood transfusion and rested for 3 weeks. It gave me the boost I needed physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I believe that this is the road that the Lord has chosen for me and I have grown in so many areas of my life. I have the privilege to have a Sabbatical year at age 33. I am a teacher and I have this year while I get my treatment, to recuperate and rediscover my passion. I miss school!!! I miss the learners. I miss having an influence on the future of our country.
The tiredness is real and chemo-brain is no myth (hats off to pregnant ladies, I now know how you feel.) Nausea is also unfortunately one of my side effects but I get injections to use at home that is lifesaving! It was (and some days still is) very difficult for me to accept that after I take a shower, I need to lie down to get my breath back and give my heart some time to slow down. This is because of the type of chemo that I get, it is cardio toxic.
My whole way of living changed. Suddenly my career is on hold, I am living with my parents after many years, I am dependent on them for basics like food, washing, shopping etc. My body is on its own mission and I have to be careful of what I eat.
After my operation the doctor warned me that I will need to loose weight otherwise I am going to eat myself to death. Wake up call!!! I needed this. It saved my life and I have lost 25kgs and still going strong. Chemo helps with loss of appetite.
Cancer is not the end of the road. It is a second chance. Grab it! Let go of the small stuff. LIVE.
Is there a family history of cancer? Please elaborate if yes.
Yes, my mother had breast cancer 6 years ago but is now in remission! She only needed radiation. My grandfather passed away due to lung cancer.
How have you or your loved ones been affected by you living with cancer?
I am privileged to stay with my parents during my time of treatment. We stay in Aliwal North which is 200km away from Bloemfontein where I receive my treatment every second week. It has changed our lives. Although they worry about me, we have grown so close and we talk openly and honestly. I depend on them for daily necessities because some days I am too tired, feels like I can’t get up.
How has having cancer affected you during this time of COVID-19?
I am extremely careful of going anywhere. My mother does the shopping and my father limits his time at the office. We are all very aware of washing hands and making sure no one other than the three of us enters the house. If I were to get COVID it could be fatal. It makes the journey a bit lonely as I can’t socialize with people my own age. Thank goodness for technology and communication apps!!
What is your message to our government regarding the prevention, management and treatment of cancer?
It feels as if the number of people diagnosed with cancer has climbed through the roof the last few years. I wish they would make healthy living more affordable and that they will launch campaigns to raise awareness of what actually causes cancer.
What is your message to other people living with cancer?
Be gentle with yourself.
Listen to your body.
Become okay with asking for and accepting help. Chemo is not a road that one can walk alone.
A positive mindset is key to success.
Find something to be thankful for daily. No matter how difficult.
Remember, the middle is always the toughest. Just stick it out. The end will arrive sooner than you think.
Writing helps me a lot.
Feel the emotion but don’t become the emotion. Process it.
Cut out all negative people from your life. As harsh as it sounds, it’s a life saving move…
There are so many versions of the chemo road that you will hear. It’s good to have knowledge but give your body the opportunity to react in its own unique way. The only side effect that is universal, is fatigue. The rest differs from cancer to cancer. Don’t allow the scary stories to occupy your mind.
Establish a small intimate cancer circle who you can trust and rely on.
My best friend has a brain tumour, not cancerous, but she took chemo pills and had radiation to shrink the tumour. It is still there after 5 years. It cannot be removed because of its location. She understands exactly what I talk about when I talk about side effects and emotions. She gives me such good advice and she is my pillar of strength.
Is pain a daily part of your life and how do you manage it?
I don’t suffer from pain at all. Only when I get my immune booster injection after every chemo session then I have body aches for a day or two. Nothing hectic.
How has CANSA supported you in your diagnosis?
The fact that I know they are there and have been supporting people (some people who were close to me) gives me peace of mind.