Today I celebrate my 5th Birthday. It was today 5 years ago in Groote Schuur Hospital that my new life began.
October 1st 2010 my life changed forever. I am what I am because of that day. I will never forget that phone call, the trip to Eric's rooms, the shudder in my Dad's voice and the tears in our eyes! It was in the 24 hours that followed that I made a promise to myself. A promise I have kept to this day!
I never thought I would see this day, let alone the 2055 between then and now. I will never be able to thank everyone who stood by me appropriately but know this, today I raise my glass thanking you, from me!
I recently wrote this poem and I hope that the title rings true for me!
So in the spirt of the day I though it quite appropriate to share with you a little teaser from the book that I'm writing. So below please enjoy the 1st chapter (unedited - could possibly change) from my book.
(Please note that in the 5 years since my transplant I have not let anything stop me so writing has been slow, but I am working on completing it before the end of 2017!)
“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
Twenty two is an interesting age; you are no longer a teenager, so people actually pay some attention when you express an opinion, but in terms of adulthood you’ve only just gotten started so you find yourself at the end of the queue when it comes to how much responsibility you can apparently handle. So, with this perception pretty much imprinted on my forehead, I was happy to approach my life with a healthy balance of youthful exuberance and moderate maturity. Life was good, in fact life was great; I had the best job in the world, a close-knit circle of friends and my whole life ahead of me to explore. That was until the devil ‘came a knocking’ for the second time in my life and I had to hear those soul-destroying words yet again: “You have cancer.”
In 1996, I was seven years old. My world was about all things young boys consider vital; food, play, television and my bike – although not necessarily in that order. When the diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was handed down I really had very little understanding of what it meant and absolutely no way of comprehending the impact it would have on the young adult I would become. Six months of chemotherapy was hell and yet these same six months were, in hindsight, absolutely crucial in forging the strength I know I have today. Having had to recently revisited this time in my life I realised that nobody discussed my disease; my parents would not talk about it so our family friends did not talk about it either – I didn’t even talk about it. Non-Hodgkin’s lived in our family home, and he lived there in silence.
As fate would have it my treatment was successful and our deathly house guest was gone by my eighth birthday. For the next fourteen years I met regularly with my oncologist to make sure my cancer was definitely gone. I tend to stress about many things and every check-up found me anticipating the very worst. It was only after a number of false alarms and self-diagnosis of phantom symptoms that my paranoia began to subside and I was ready to refer to cancer as the disease I used to have…
Life moved on; I went to school, participated in a few swimming galas and even won a few races. High school arrived and I made the difficult move away from home and into a boarding establishment in Pietermaritzburg. The transition was really not an easy one; suddenly finding myself in a strange town and living in a new house with seventy eight unfamiliar faces was tough, but my parents were adamant that I ride the storm and stick it out. I will be eternally grateful that they took this stance because by the time I entered 2nd Form I knew I was a ‘College Boy’, (from my basher to my boots) and I had forged strong ties many of which I proudly carry with me even today.
Those early days, however, were pretty dark and I thought any mention of cancer would isolate me even further, so I didn’t. I made the decision to continue the silence around my disease and not share my experiences with my peers, but as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.
There is a special kind of heat that ‘Maritzburg experiences; it’s a little like attempting to breathe through a wet balaclava. It was on one of these particularly hot and sticky school days that I found myself in the upper fourth form science lab. The lesson was LO, or Life Orientation, and the teacher taking the class was one of the first adults who had really made me feel that I belonged at College; that I mattered and that what I had to contribute was of value. It was this feeling of acceptance that prompted me to reveal my ‘secret’; that three-minute-moment is as clear to me today as it will be in twenty years time.
I was trembling uncontrollably and I thought my voice would surely betray me, but somehow I worked my way through the whole story even though I was unable to meet anyone’s gaze. I clearly recall looking down at my hands that were damp with perspiration, fingers interlocked, and being aware of my heart beating so strongly that I was certain everyone in the room could hear it too. There was a rushing sensation in my ears and all kinds of mixed up thoughts and emotions were fighting for space inside me; I had told my secret, I had shared a vital part of me with these people, with these friends!
I sat down, uncertain of what to do next, and then I heard the teacher call my name so I raised my eyes to meet hers and saw that she was barely able to hold back her tears – that moment seemed to last an eternity. I slowly began looking around the room and saw that many of my classmates were struggling to keep their composure, some were even crying openly. It was when they all started clapping that I realised my cheeks were also wet with tears. From then on I was far more at ease when people asked me about my experiences and finally being able to surround my cancer with words rather than with silence was more liberating than I could have ever imagined it would be. Thank you Dee Dickens; teacher, mentor and fellow colleague…I hope you know.
The next five years at College were some of my best and it was during this time that I decided that I really wanted to use my childhood battle with cancer as a means of helping others in any way I could. I made the decision to enrol in the First Aid Society and the four years I spent working alongside Alisa Greyling and the Sanatorium sisters these years were incredibly rewarding and emotionally draining, sometimes in equal measure. I was awarded with Honours for my service and, later at my Matric awards evening, I was presented with the prize for Service to the School; I had made my mark and I had been recognised – how far I had come from that frightened seven year old boy fighting for his life against a disease that knows no compassion.
Fourteen years; fourteen years looking ahead, living life and finding my balance. Fourteen years that saw me attend Varsity College and embark on a Bachelors Degree, make some great decisions and some stupid mistakes. Fourteen years during which I have loved and lost, learnt and laughed. Fourteen years of being able to call myself a ‘Survivor’ and then that call came…the unwanted house guest was back and this time her name was Leukaemia…