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Sheila van der Merwe – Cancer Stories of Hope #CANSA90

Sheila van der Merwe

What type of cancer did you have?

Pancreas cancer stage 1.

What is your current cancer diagnosis?

Clean, had a Whipple in May 2021 and a few lymph nodes were positive.

How long have you been living with that cancer?

Approximately 8 months.

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

Pain, tired, no energy, struggle to eat, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss.

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

Yes. My grandpa had pancreatic cancer, my dad kidney cancer, my mom breast cancer, and my sister breast cancer.

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

My husband got very frustrated when he couldn’t do anything for my pain. I get Whipple attacks if I eat incorrectly and need to eat every 2 hours. We need to plan if we want to go somewhere, and consider what I ate in the hours before, otherwise there is pain or diarrhea. The main problem is nobody can do anything for you, just listen. We take the good days as great and take the bad days as they come. I have awesome children and family, but only my husband knows what I go through every day.

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

I do not know if I already had cancer, before I had COVID. I was diagnosed with COVID on 1 June 2020. I did not want to go to hospital as I was too scared, and spent 4 weeks in bed. I still have memory loss sometimes.

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

Grootte Schuur said my cancer is rare, because we picked it up in stage 1 and it’s not always picked up that early. They did biopsies and said they were going to send it for a clinical trial. They never told me I needed enzymes, or that I’m going to have creamy stools, or what food would cause pain. The hospital did not communicate what the new “normal” would be. There is no communication with the patient.

What is your message to other people living with cancer?

Surround yourself with people that love you and do not care that you cannot eat this or that, remember you have your good days and bad days. Why worry about tomorrow if you do not know what tomorrow will bring? Do not be too hard on yourself, if you walk a bit today and you are to sore tomorrow, leave it and try another day again. Keep you hands and mind busy. The main thing that helped me through my Whipple operation is that ‘yes I can do that’ attitude. ‘Cannot’ must leave your vocabulary. Make Peace and forgive, bitterness just holds YOU back.

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

Pain daily after 12 weeks post op. From diabetes 2 to diabetes 1, still cannot eat everything. I had to Google everything I wanted to know join a face group page. I need to keep a food diary with my sugar levels, my blood pressure, my tablets, and when I have diarrhea. I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety attacks, after the round in hospital its a bit worse BUT I’m working on that!

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