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Nalisha Maharaj – Cancer Stories of Hope #CANSA90

Nalisha Maharaj

What is your current cancer diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in February 2020, and have been in remission now for 8 months.

How long have you been living with that cancer?

I had chemo for 6 months, and a PET scan confirmed no trace of cancer (Sept 2020).

How does living with cancer affect you in general in your day-to-day living?

I find it more challenging now that I am in remission to manage the post effects: numbness and tingling feeling in hands and feet, the emotional journey I went through, the stress my family and friends endured, the brain fog, and the anxiety for the check-ups for 2 years.

I have decided to keep my feelings to myself as I felt everyone has been through so much , especially with the impact of COVID-19 but I continue to be a member of different bodies / platforms to share my successful story, inspire other Survivors and help them deal with the side effects during chemo.

Sometimes I feel I exhausted all my strength and positivity during chemo and I wonder whether I will have the will power to fight it again – I’m personally terrified if it comes back, as I feel I won’t do chemo – it drained me but I am glad I refocused my mind with my work. My seniors at my work were very supportive and not once made me feel “incapable ” due to my illness.

As one always says, ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ – I had the most successful performance feedback for 2020, despite my illness and COVID-19 and am proud and grateful to say I was just appointed the Chief Operating Officer at work – this brought immense joy to me, the good news was much needed.

To help with the side effects I run 6km everyday to fight the numbness and bring down the 14kg I picked up during chemo – happy to say I am 9kgs down… yes, its a journey .. all in good time. I continue to take the meds for the numbness especially in winter, but don’t want to be too dependent on meds.

Is there a family history of cancer? Please elaborate if yes.

Interestingly yet gladly, both sides of the family have no history – my diagnosis was a complete shock to us… remember telling the surgeon in ICU “please get out of here, you are talking nonsense…made a huge mistake, please retest…”

How have you or your loved ones been affected by you living with cancer?

I think they personally withdrew and didn’t want to talk about it, hoping this was a bad dream – not sure whether it was the shock or that they felt the more one spoke about it, the more real it would become.

I was not allowed to say the “c” word. My family in Durban were severely impacted as they couldn’t travel due to COVID. My mum was devastated – she shut all out that weekend when she was advised… guess due to general panic and shock, as you seldom hear of people surviving cancer.

I also believe the onset of COVID, strange but true, helped us cope as a family with the chemo sessions, sick days, etc as you didn’t have visitors that had to put on a brave face nor tell you how bad / good you looked and hear all the horror stories – it helped keep negative people / gossipers away, and we were able to focus on me recovering and listen to the surgeon / oncologist. We didn’t have to entertain the peanut gallery’s comments.

Today , I have accepted reality for a recurrence, but not my family though. I feel if it does come back, I will keep it very private – they have endured too much pain and after the first challenge , I got this.

How has having cancer affected you during this time of COVID-19?

I was diagnosed just at the onset of COVID-19 – feels like we walked this journey together. Like I said it worked in my favour, not to have visitors, limit my engagements, as my immune system was heavily compromised (had chemo every two weeks with a bag of chemo for further two days).

I got used to being quarantined at home, although I didn’t experience COVID, but accepted this path for my own well being to fight cancer.

Work, meditation, walking, and listening to devotional songs / speakers helped me stay focused and keep a positive mindset to fight this ailment – lots of great support from family and friends – old friendships were rekindled and I was in awe of how loved I am – people are genuine. COVID has thought us to self love, care and love, and that family & friendship are priceless and precious.

What is your message to our government regarding the prevention, management and treatment of cancer?

I was so grateful that I had comprehensive cover for my scans and treatment, that I focused on my well-being as the financial costs were covered. Yet I heard how some of my brave fellow warriors were worried how to settle these costs, but had the most amazing doctors who weren’t concerned of the medical aid short falls but wanted to help their patients beat cancer. Indebted to these awesome doctors.

Yes, cancer treatment is expensive. Just like we have sliding scales for tax, the same should apply for the treatment. I think one loses hope to fight cancer mainly due to the financial burden and if there is a cure, let’s stop the corruption and save lives – lets trust the system.

What is your message to other people living with cancer?

I watched a lady on “Americas Got Talent” yesterday and she sang a song , Its OK (written by herself). Her cancer has spread to her spine, liver, etc, but she had the most beautiful smile, so positive and willing to embrace life to her last breath – so inspirational – I just sat in bed crying.

But my message is that love conquers all. Trust and have faith in God, surrender this illness to Him and He will guide you. I never meditated before and my surgeon helped me while in hospital and it gave me so much peace, calmness and strength for chemo sessions.

I also avoided negative people, and Google and created a support group with friends that had chemo together – needed to be each others’ strength and to know that it was ok when we experienced dull days.

Keep your mind busy, don’t think negative thoughts as I believe the universe listens.

I salute you today and always… We walk this journey together to live more passionately with faith at our side.

Is pain a daily part of your life and how do you manage it?

Since I am in early in remission, I have occasional abdomen pain – guess body adjusting and chemo still in, but the bigger challenge is the numbness and tingling feeling in feet and hands. What helps me is to walk often , run 6km every day, massage and limiting meds. However with the onset of winter, it gets slightly worse, so meds my new friend so can get a good night’s sleep, otherwise I start limping, my legs get so cold and dead.

But the emotional pain will take years to recover – sometimes just talking about it – I’m in tears. Feel so emotionally drained although I am eternally grateful for the second lease on life – not ideal now, but pray happy days will return with family and friends together at Sunday lunch…

Still very cautious of engaging with people, until I get the vaccine. Somedays I feel like a prisoner in my own home, but recently started going to the office twice a week and it has helped me emotionally and physically.

What support do you think cancer patients need most?

I didn’t want to commit myself as I am one to focus on small goals, however now that I am in remission, I am happy to help in any way I can – together we can do so much and share our quick wins with those who are starting on this journey.

How has CANSA supported you in your diagnosis?

I am a member of the CANSA Survivors Champions of Hope Facebook support group.

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